April 8, 2013

Extreme sports star Travis Pastrana trying to get a handle on stock cars

For car owner Jack Roush, the X Games star brings appeal to young fans.

Travis Pastrana has climbed into or onto and won on just about anything with a wheel.

Skateboards, motorcycles, rally cars — all conquered by the extreme sports star.

But not stock cars.

“He called me and said, ‘Everything I’ve ever tried, I’ve won at. I’m not winning here,’ ” said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. “I said, ‘Travis, man, you’re going up against the best drivers in the world at this.’ ”

The message has sunk in for Pastrana, who will visit TMS this week for Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, the sixth stop in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series schedule.

“I didn’t expect to necessarily be doing any better than I am now, but when you look at it from a distance, you don’t know why it’s going to be tough,” he said in March when he visited TMS to meet with reporters. “Each new track, I knew it was going to be tough.”

Pastrana has not exactly been terrible — he’s got a pair of top-10s, at Daytona and Las Vegas, and he sits 12th in the points standings.

For car owner Jack Roush, that’s satisfactory for now. Roush hired the 29-year-old Pastrana for his personality, potential and appeal to young fans of the X Games.

“He’s extraordinarily motivated, he’s able, and he’s talented,” Roush said. “But you need to keep him constantly aware of what the loss is if he steps outside his envelope, as he did at Phoenix, and gets himself wrecked. You either have a car that’s damaged that you have to struggle with throughout the entire race or you’re parked on the side, in which case you’ve missed the opportunity to learn something.”

Pastrana has already missed some of those opportunities. Two years ago, an X Games injury interrupted his plans to start his NASCAR career.

He managed eight Nationwide races for Robby Benton in a Toyota last year, then finished the year with one start for Roush. When he runs at TMS on Friday, it will be his first race on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track.

“I always looked at a NASCAR track and said, ‘OK, it’s just two turns,’ ” Pastrana said. “In motocross, I won’t even walk the track and by the end of Lap 1, I know 25 corners, the whoops, the lines, and I’ve got it memorized. In rally car, you never hit the same corner twice so you better be spot-on the first time. Now, in NASCAR, you have all this practice, these hours and hours of time, and it’s two turns — and yet I’ve found it’s more challenging and difficult to get fast on those turns because you can’t be just good. You have to be perfect.

“It’s the best in the world with the most knowledge in the world, the best teams in the world, and all of a sudden you’re fighting for tenths of seconds. It’s no longer, ‘I gave up two seconds in that corner but I made up three seconds in that one.’ You might lose two seconds, but you’re not going to make it up.”

For now, Pastrana is at least succeeding in gaining experience and providing the crossover appeal his boss envisions.

“If I don’t do well, there’s going to be a lot of I-told-you-sos,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘Are you worried about bringing the fans over?’ Well, kind of. But really, for me, the thing is to try to do the best that I can. So that’s my focus.”

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