By Matt Weaver – Whatever questions anyone had about Travis Pastrana and his commitment to NASCAR can be put away now as the former extreme sports athlete and current Roush-Fenway driver expressed his passion for the sport in an exclusive interview with Popular Speed.
The conversation took place on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and saw the 29-year-old describe what must happen in order for him to return next season and his answers may surprise you. The complete transcript of the interview can be found below.
Popular Speed: Are you still having fun in NASCAR — three quarters into your first full season?
Travis Pastrana: Yeah, man. You’re on the edge all the time and that’s a real thrill. Carl (Edwards) came over this morning and told me:
“Alright, I’ve seen you drive. I know you can drive. What do we need to do? We need to start getting you outside of your comfort zone. I know you’ve been crashing some cars but let’s find out where we can make up some time and try to do this safely.”
So for me, the big thing is the challenge of being consistently competitive.
PS: Were you a fan of NASCAR before making this decision or was it more of a casual thing?
TP: For me, it was the most competitive sport I could get into. It’s the highest level of competition that I could attempt given my background and where I came from.
It was a thing where we won four consecutive rally championships so do we go to World Rally or do we keep racing in US Rally or even try freestyle motocross? To me, racing has always been where my heart is and I always loved new challenges — so NASCAR was the obvious choice.
I’ve always watched the Daytona 500 every year with my family. And there are literally about 60 or 70 of us who get together at my friend’s local go kart track, barbecue and then head off to watch the 500. So it was always something that was there but I was more of a guy who skipped the regular season and watched the playoffs.
PS: Had you ever gone to Daytona before?
TP: I had never been to the Daytona 500, no.
PS: So what was it like to walk into that environment during Speedweeks with that large of a crowd and with the electric atmosphere?
TP: Dude, it’s really cool. But let me tell you, Bristol is the one where the first time I saw it saw it, I was like ‘Holy crap.’
But Daytona was cool. That’s where I got my first supercross win — in the infield at Daytona. It was always a very familiar place for me because we’ve gone down to Bike Week since I was seven and even stayed there for a few weeks with Gary Bailey, the designer of the Daytona infield course.
So that was always a very familiar motorcycle location for me. But Bristol, when you walk in there and see this gladiator arena, you just say ‘holy crap.’
PS: The standout event of your career in my mind, is Kentucky in July. Do you see it that way?
TP: Yes and no. We qualified second so it wasn’t a bad lap but I felt like we had more in the car. Expectations were pretty high and it was disappointing to drop back so quickly to sixth or seventh in the first couple of laps.
We were really just holding track position and the conditions were changing so much that I wasn’t able to tell the team what I needed out of the car. We thought it was going to come to us more than it did.
We were quickest in practice and I felt like we were going to be more competitive that day. It was by far the best race that we’ve had and I realize that. But for me, I’m not going to be happy until we’re winning. I recognize that it’s a long way off but every weekend has us coming off the hauler thing we’re going to put it all together.
So am I having fun? Yes.
It’s been a great experience and I know so much more now than when I was simply watching NASCAR and it’s even made me a bigger fan — of the sport and the drivers. And that’s a great experience but I’m ready to get past the experience and start winning.
PS: Was Atlanta similar at all — because of the old worn surface?
TP: Yeah, Atlanta was the first track where I led laps last year — we had ran sixth to eighth — got loose and hit the wall but it was the first time that I had run with the leaders. The racing is different up there, you know?
I’m in the position right now where I’m running at the tail end of the good guys. Sadler and Kesleowski if they’re having a bad day are running with me. But I need to be running with them consistently, no matter what kind of day they’re having.
PS: There’s been a lot of debate about the Cup guys, like Kyle Busch coming into the Nationwide Series and dominating. One of our ideas is sending them to the back for the start of the race so you and the younger guys get a chance to try to hold off the best. Would you be in favor of that?
TP: I think that would be great. I’m up for anything that gives us a chance to learn from them and be in free air. The car is so much more comfortable up front and the guys who start there get to keep the free air.
So it’s an interesting thing.
But for me, I’m just happy they’re on the track. So many people say they should stick to Cup or shouldn’t run two series but really — say Kyle Larson has an awesome day, if he’s not fighting Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, then how good was his day really? So heck yeah, I’d love to stick them in the back but fair is fair.
If they’re qualifying better then they deserve to start up front. But for the fans or me, It would be a great show.
PS: You mentioned Bristol — where does that place rank as one of the craziest things you’ve ever done?
TP: Without a doubt, Bristol and Dover were the places that I looked forward to the most. Dover is just about 10 minutes from my house and Bristol is one that I’ve always watched. People pack that place out and party until midnight, and that’s awesome — it’s Bristol baby!
PS: I’ve often called IndyCar the original extreme sport or X-Games — is that something you’d like to try someday?
TP: I like banging too much. Bumping and banging and that’s probably not going to work in IndyCar. I’d love to test a car to drive one and I think it would be a lot of fun. For me — racing is car banging — just getting in there and being aggressive and rubbing on the guys as you’re passing them
(At this point, a Roush crew member starting laughing at how lewd Pastrana sounded and no one could keep a straight face.)
Maybe we should word that differently…Yeah, nevermind. Whatever. (Laughs)
PS: You did some Late Model stuff last year. Did you enjoy that and would you like to try it again?
TP: Without a doubt. My big thing this year is that I need to get some results in the Nationwide Series or we’re not going to have the funding for next season.
If I can get some results, I would love to budget some Late Models and some Tuesday night races. And we have some good chances coming up — like Richmond — my best finish this season, Kentucky and some other (intermediates) that we should be good at. But I look at Kyle Larson who is running over 200 races this year and I think about how cool that would be.
PS: So racing in the Nationwide Series next year purely comes down to performance?
TP: Yeah, I figure if I’m not good enough to get the financing, this probably isn’t the sport for me. But I think it is.
I admit that I jumped into the deep end but that’s what I do and I’ve been successful doing it. Jimmie Johnson says I need two years of K&N and Trucks but this is what I do and it works. But we need to go out there and prove it again.
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