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Pastrana Takes Big Step Up In Quest For Respect

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 3 2013

Travis Pastrana on Friday won the pole for Sunday's NNS race at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Novelty-item drivers have come and gone in NASCAR over the years. Many of those who follow the sport may have thought that X-Games star Travis Pastrana would be just another one of those when he announced his intentions to cross over to NASCAR a couple years back.

On Friday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, Pastrana went a long way toward removing the novelty-item tag from next to his name as he won the pole for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 Nationwide Series race.

The pole run came prior to the 29-year-old Pastrana’s 17th NNS start. It came on the eve of his eighth start of the season in the series and it came in a Roush Fenway Racing car.

And it came with a wonderful smile.

“It sounds like a dream come true,” Pastrana said. “Bringing the guys to the line at the green flag at Talladega is awesome, so I’m definitely excited.  I mean, this Roush Fenway team has worked so hard.  Chad (Norris), my crew chief, he’s like, ‘We’ve been putting everything together.  Let’s go out there and get this thing.’  He had a lot of confidence in myself and the car and it’s just awesome to be able to show the work these guys are putting together and I’m definitely really happy to be here.”

Pastrana’s jump into NASCAR did not begin happily.

It was supposed to begin late in the 2011 season. It was supposed to begin after the X-Games that year and it was definitely supposed to start with major fanfare as the series and also ESPN touted his crossover debut with considerable gusto.

But during the X-Games  in July of that year, a nasty fall on a motorcycle resulted in injuries serious enough push his NASCAR debut back until the 2012 season.

The Nationwide debut finally occurred in April of 2012 when he qualified 25th in a Robby Benton-owned, Scott Zipadelli-tuned Toyota.

For a guy who spent his competitive career on motorcycles and in rally cars, things went reasonably well in 2012. He finished top 20 in four of his nine starts. His best finish was 13th, which he got in Indianapolis.

This season, he has started seven NNS races for his new Roush Fenway team and has three top-10 finishes with the best of those coming at Richmond where he was ninth.

Pastrana has insisted all along that he was in NASCAR to stay and that he was in it to compete. He was in it, he kept telling the media, not as a novelty item. On Friday at NASCAR’s nastiest track, he took a giant step forward in his quest for NASCAR legitimacy.

Asked what the pole means, Pastrana said, plenty.

“On the restrictor plate races it means you went out there and drove a perfectly clean lap and that your car and that your crew and that everybody was working together,” he said. “You picked the right line and did the right stuff, but mostly that you have a great team and a great car. Winning the pole at a restrictor plate race also means that you’re gonna have a lot of people that are willing to work with you come race day, so I’m excited about that.”

Pastrana, a native of Maryland, has won championships in AMA Motocross, AMA Supercross and is a 10-time gold medalist in the X-Games. He’s competed in the prestigious Race of Champions and has raced sports car.

On Friday, he was asked where a single pole position ranks on his list of accomplishments.

“For me,” he said, “it’s awesome to be able to go out there and to know that we have a great team, a great car, that we put in a good lap. Here at Talladega and at Daytona as well, it’s not quite as much on sheer driving ability. It’s the ability to keep focused and keep it smooth, but you’re not sliding the car. There’s not a lot of braking points or any braking points for that matter, so it’s definitely a huge accomplishment to be able to just start here at Talladega, to lead them to the green is something I’ll always be able to say that I’ve done – assuming that we don’t get rained out here – and I’m pretty excited about that as an accomplishment.

“But, at the same time, if we get a pole at Dover or another place that’s more of a driver’s track, I think that gets more respect from the other drivers. But as far as something to check off the list, this is really, really high on that list, so I’m excited.”

What appears to separate Pastrana from the list of NASCAR novelty acts is this: dude can drive a race car.

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

Friday’s qualifying results for the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway:

1. (60) Travis Pastrana, Ford, 176.5.

2. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 176.162.

3. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 176.071.

4. (34) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 175.877.

5. (31) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 175.868.

6. (12) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 175.771.

7. (11) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 175.732.

8. (2) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 175.587.

9. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 175.52.

10. (54) Joey Coulter, Toyota, 175.33.

11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 175.324.

12. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 175.269.

13. (10) Jeff Green, Toyota, 175.218.

14. (99) Alex Bowman, Toyota, 175.208.

15. (43) Reed Sorenson, Ford, 175.202.

16. (30) Nelson Piquet Jr., Chevrolet, 175.192.

17. (33) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 175.112.

18. (77) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 174.971.

19. (32) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 174.923.

20. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 174.904.

21. (20) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 174.77.

22. (4) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 174.382.

23. (14) Eric McClure, Toyota, 174.363.

24. (19) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 174.16.

25. (70) Johanna Long, Chevrolet, 174.119.

26. (85) Bobby Gerhart, Chevrolet, 173.998.

27. (79) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 173.859.

28. (74) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 173.821.

29. (55) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, 173.676.

30. (87) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, 173.573.

31. (24) Jason White, Toyota, 173.387.

32. (44) Hal Martin, Toyota, 173.036.

33. (23) Robert Richardson Jr., Chevrolet, 172.855.

34. (00) Blake Koch, Toyota, 172.762.

35. (89) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, 172.367.

36. (52) Donnie Neuenberger, Chevrolet, 171.964.

37. (51) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 171.927.

38. (01) Mike Wallace, Chevrolet, 171.594.

39. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Owner Points.

40. (92) Tim Andrews, Ford, 171.764.

Failed to qualify

41. (15) Stanton Barrett, Ford, 170.561.

42. (25) John Wes Townley, Toyota.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 3 2013
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