By Jerry Bonkowski – Having covered professional sports for over 30 years, I’ve seen more than my share of athletes that hung around too long in their careers.
I’ve also seen athletes that came and went and probably should never have come in the first place.
But it’s rare that an athlete comes into a sport, gives it his best shot and then says, “Thanks, but I realize this just isn’t for me.”
What Travis Pastrana did on Monday, announcing that he will not be returning to NASCAR due to lack of sponsorship for 2014 and overall lack of success and performance took guts.
And I mean that in the best way possible.
The king of the extreme sports world realized that this whole NASCAR thing, while exciting and extreme in its own way, just was something he couldn’t do any more.
I have to give credit to Pastrana for knowing it was time to leave while he could, rather than try to fake it and pretend to be something he’s not: he may be one of the greatest extreme sports athletes the world has ever seen, but plain and simple, he’s just not and likely never will be a great NASCAR driver, the kind of driver so many people expected him to become.
He even said so himself:
“I hate to quit and I hate to fail, but sometimes things work out as they should,” Pastrana said in the statement released on his Facebook page. “I’ve never been able to figure out the finesse required in pavement racing and that is disappointing, but I’m looking forward to driving more rally and racing more off-road trucks and there will be some announcements on those fronts shortly!”
There’s no shame in not succeeding in a four-wheel sport that, for all intents and purposes, was a bit foreign to a guy who made much of his previous athletic living on two wheels and other varieties of four-wheel racing.
I commend Pastrana for taking the leap of faith that he could do for NASCAR what he did in extreme sports. He brought a well-known name, a quirky yet refreshing personality and fans into the sport who otherwise wouldn’t have done so had it not been for his surname and past rep in other forms of racing.
Other drivers who likely will never cut it in NASCAR could take a cue from Pastrana’s decision to get out while the getting’s good. He came to realize that four top-10 finishes in 32 races (one ninth-place finish and three 10th-place showings) just wasn’t good enough to continue on.
Pastrana qualified and started each of the first 32 races this season, completing 5,408 of 5,812 laps (93 percent). He led five laps and wound up with an average start of 16.8 and average finish of 21.4. He also failed to finish six times, all due to crashes.
I have to guess that Pastrana spent the last few weeks looking at his track record and came to the conclusion he wasn’t fooling anyone else, and most certainly wasn’t fooling himself, with that kind of performance.
Still, Pastrana deserves a lot of applause for actually going through the process. He came into the sport making no guarantees, other than he’d work hard to learn and do his best whenever he was behind the wheel.
That, my friends, is a man who lived up to his word. Unfortunately, his talent wasn’t able to transcend from off-road or rally or motocross racing to pavement racing.
I also have to give Pastrana credit for deciding it was time to let his wife, Lyn-Z, pursue her own athletic dreams, which she abruptly put on hold to support her husband’s chasing of his NASCAR dream.
While he won’t be back in a NASCAR race car anytime soon, if ever again, I hope Pastrana does not become a stranger and leave the sport completely. He brought in an excitement and curiosity factor that the sport, particularly the Nationwide Series, needed.
I’d hate to see him walk away and totally put stock car racing completely in his rearview mirror. Even if he stops by a few tracks periodically just to hang out and say “hi” to friends and fans he’s made, that would be outstanding.
After reading the statement he made Monday that revealed his decision to end his NASCAR career, I started thinking about whether we’ve seen or heard the last from Pastrana when it comes to competitive racing.
Maybe he couldn’t cut it in NASCAR, but I have to wonder if perhaps Pastrana might one day wind up in the new united sports car series that debuts in 2014 or perhaps even IndyCar.
I mean, he’s only 30 years old. And it’s not an embarrassment not having been able to cut it in NASCAR. Look at guys like Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Kimi Raikkonen, Patrick Carpentier and soon, Juan Pablo Montoya. They all gave NASCAR a shot, fell short and either moved back to what they did best in their former racing series or ventured off in other directions.
I admit, I’m going to miss Travis. He was a breath of fresh air, most notably when it came to interviewing him in-person.
The biggest thing that always impressed me was in several interviews I had with him, both one-on-one or in group settings, was his honesty. At times, he was so raw in that honesty that I’m sure it probably made some folks at Roush Fenway Racing or some sponsors cringe.
But that’s what made Travis, Travis. He was honest to the media, honest to the fans and, when it came time to make one of the most difficult decisions of his life, he was honest with himself that NASCAR just wasn’t for him.
How can you not admire and like someone like that?