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Many Hope Pastrana Can Bring Action To NASCAR

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 27 2012

Action-sports star Travis Pastrana will be a focus of attention this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Travis Pastrana’s career has been based upon his ability to execute amazing, high-flying jumps. This weekend, he will attempt to stick the landing on what may be the most important jump of his career: The much-anticipated, long-delayed jump into NASCAR’s big time.

The action-sports star is scheduled to drive in theVirginia 529 College Savings 250 Nationwide Series race Richmond International Raceway on Friday night.

It’s a race that, because of Pastrana’s inclusion, a lot of people will be closely watching for a lot of reasons.

The 28-year-old Pastrana is being looked at by many as a potential savior for NASCAR as the series continues to attempt to make in-roads with younger sports fans.

See, Pastrana is a superstar in his world – the world of stadiums and ariels and clothes that don’t fit. That is, he is a  superstar in the world of NASCAR fans’ kids.

NASCAR is not a super sport among that set. Pastrana thinks he knows why.

“People can’t really relate to what it’s like to slide around a corner three-wide at 200 miles-an-hour,” he said. “Having said that, I’ve got so much … I’ve probably never been ridiculed more from an industry to come to NASCAR, which is ironic.

“I think it’s easier for someone to come in that can relate to something. For me, this is the most competitive sport in the world. All these guys are competitive. They don’t give it the benefit of the doubt because they just see it on TV, they don’t understand it. For me, my goal is to do well because it doesn’t

Travis Pastrana will attempt his biggest jump this weekend. (File photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Michael Waltrip Racing)

matter how big a fan base you have. If you suck, nobody is going to follow you after a while. My goal is to not necessarily to work on the press side of it, but to work on my driving side of it.”

Pastrana’s driving side of it will be closely examined in the RIR garages. NASCAR competitors have not always been quick to embrace outsiders. Especially those who have vellum-thin track records.

Patrana, an automatic qualifier for the event because of owner points, said, cool.

He said he is “really pumped” about his debut, but  is not really expecting a victory. His job this weekend, he said, will be more about winning respect than trophies.

During a press conference on Thursday at RIR, Pastrana said, “I realize that everyone is like, ‘How are you doing? Are you going to check first or last? You going to try and win?’ I’m like, ‘Look, everyone out there is going to try to win. I’m going to try as hard as anyone else.’ And every driver has that belief that they can do it, but a goal for me for this first race – a goal that it would be very, very difficult for me to reach – would be to stay on the lead lap and that’s where we’re coming in.

“That’s where we’re starting and saying, ‘Okay, even if we don’t, that’s the goal for the next weekend.’ I’ve got to make every single lap of these races. I’ve got to get as much experience as I can. I’m going to be picked on or made fun or I’m sure I’m going to crash some people and I’m going to be a lot of the stories or topics and then everything is going to fade away and it’s up to me at that point to find the sponsorship. And I think we’ve got great people around us to keep coming back to these races even after people don’t care and I’m going to figure out how to get to the top of this sport and that’s where I want to go.”

Pastrana was supposed to debut last summer in the NNS race near Indianapolis. But a crash and injury in the X-Games put the kibosh on that plan.

Asked if absence made the anticipation grow stronger, Pastrana said, “It’s definitely been a really long time coming. We felt like we were fairly prepared last year coming in. Just really was looking forward to getting that first start at Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Raceway) and hurt myself and it’s been – since that race, it’s all I’ve been thinking about is just getting in here and starting the Nationwide and seeing what’s going on.

“The K&N (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) has been great – been learning a lot. Doing a lot of testing with the Nationwide car now with RAB (Racing with Brack Maggard) in conjunction with all the guys that have been really helping out still through Michael Waltrip (Racing) and Matt Crafton. It has been a long road of, ‘Hey, how are you going to do? When are you going to race?,’ and I’m like, ‘I really don’t know.’ And you know what, we’re going to go out here and I finally get a chance to have some fun tomorrow.”

Pastrana’s debut will also be closely watched by barbers and hair stylists.

He spent some time recently with Jimmie Johnson. Pastrana found Johnson, a good friend, to be a real cut-up – Johnson gave Pastrana a really ugly mullet hair cut.

The five-time Sprint Cup champion and futureless tonsorial engineer was asked during a teleconference about Pastrana’s foray into Johnson’s world.

“I think he’ll do well,” Johnson said. “And I you’ll see I gave him a pretty cool haircut, there is more to follow in the next couple days. But he has a rocking mullet that I was able to carve out of his head with some metal cutting sheers.

“So he is all committed, fully in. On a more serious note, it’s his time. The guy knows how to race and ride and drive and whatever the heck it is. It’s just car time. It’s like Carmichael or Juan Pablo, like staying on four wheels, it just takes time to find that last point 2.

“Travis is coming in pretty green. So he has to find the big steps. Then once he gets through the big steps, it’s down to the last point 2. Some people take a couple years, others take longer than that. So it’s just a time thing.

“But I’m really happy to have him in the sport. He’s an amazing guy with a huge fan base, and it’s going to be good for NASCAR.”

That is the hope, at least, for a lot of people this weekend.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 27 2012
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