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Pastrana's progress gets biggest test yet

April 27, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com



Pastrana's progress gets biggest test yet
RICHMOND, Va. -- Former extreme sports star will make Nationwide debut in his ninth stock car race

Travis Pastrana has made a lot of progress in the little more than a year in which he's raced stock cars, and his recent performance in the K&N Pro Series East proved that.

Pastrana's driver coach and spotter, Camping World Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton, is adamant about his rookie charge's potential.

A fortunate break?


After fracturing his foot and ankle during the X Games, Travis Pastrana's Nationwide debut was delayed for nine months. David Caraviello says the additional time will make him more prepared for his biggest and most difficult step yet.

"It is amazing how much he's picked up, and I'm not just saying it because I'm helping him, but his feedback has been phenomenal since day one," Crafton said. "He's going to impress a lot of people soon. How far he's come in a short period of time, he's going to be impressive."

Pastrana's progress will be quantified in the most intense environment possible Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, when he makes his Nationwide Series debut in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.

Tempering Pastrana's expectations is that his Nationwide debut comes in his ninth stock car race. But that doesn't lessen his anticipation.

"It's definitely been a really long time coming," Pastrana said.

Pastrana's lack of oval-track opportunities is a direct result of an injury he suffered when an X Games motorcycle stunt went bad last summer, nullifying his planned Nationwide debut at O'Reilly Raceway Park outside Indianapolis.

His foot and ankle injuries kept Pastrana out of a car until January, when he tested a Grand-Am Rolex Series GT class Ferrari with team owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman. They raced in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, but Pastrana spoke bluntly then of one of his greatest challenges.

"I've always been overenthusiastic and underprepared," Pastrana said. "And we found, even just running the K&N Series last year, that we're gonna need a little more preparation, and I think that's good."

Since then Pastrana has done a number of test sessions, including his most recent outing at the legendary Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Since that [missed debut], all I've been thinking about is just getting in here and starting the Nationwide and seeing what's going on," Pastrana said. "We're going to go out here and I finally get a chance to have some fun [Friday], so I'm really pumped."

Despite his lack of seat time, Pastrana continued to impress at the Blue Ox 100 K&N Pro Series East race.

He qualified a career-best fourth. Contrast that with his previous Richmond experience, a year ago in the same event. That day, he qualified 26th and finished 33rd in the 100-lap feature.

By all accounts -- his own, those of crew chief Mike Greci and Crafton -- Pastrana is ready for the biggest step in a process that began when he made his first stock car test in December 2010.

"I don't think my driving skill has improved that much," Pastrana said. "But what has [improved] is communication and understanding what the car needs. It's just learning what these cars want, and it's a hell of a learning process."

Greci said it's easy to assess the most impressive thing about Pastrana's past year.

"How much he wants to do it, and how far behind he got by hurting his ankle," Greci said. "He knows what that did to everybody's program. But as far as dedication goes, God, he's right after it. When we go and test, he's really into the technical part of it and he wants to look at all the data. If you can base anything on effort, he's 100 percent there."

Pastrana's work ethic has impressed both his mentors.

"He has a really good feel for a race car, which is really impressive," said Greci, who recently worked with one of the sport's best newcomers, Ryan Truex, and led him to consecutive K&N East championships. "When we test and have Travis take [the car] out and Matt take it out, they both feel the same thing and their feedback is excellent, which makes it easy on our part.

"The biggest thing is [Pastrana's] lack of experience, and you can't buy that at the [parts] truck. All we can do is put him out there with cars, side-by-side."

After Pastrana ran in the top seven for the first three-quarters of the Blue Ox 100, he learned his latest lesson. He raced at least three laps side-by-side on the 0.75-mile oval with rookie Bryan Ortiz.

Pastrana was smiling, almost laughing as he was told that Ortiz hit his car "almost every corner, every lap," until Ortiz finally lost control entering Turn 1, underneath Pastrana on lap 77, and spun him out. Pastrana, who had said before the race he was "going like hell in that K&N race," amended that.

"I gave [Ortiz] a lane-and-a-half, and he used the lane-and-a-half and decided he needed eight tires -- which is fine, I've done the same thing, that's racing," Pastrana said. "If I'd known it was a driver that was that aggressive, I would've let him go, which as a racer you don't ever think of, giving up a spot. I could've told you three laps before that if I didn't get around that guy quickly, one of us was gonna end up crashing, and unfortunately it was me.

"My car worked better on the bottom and [Ortiz's] worked better on the top, and in hindsight, I probably should've let him have the spot , then gone back around him on the inside but I was trying to wear him out and I guess I took the wind off his car. If I would've dropped back to eighth, it still would've been a better finish than [23rd]."

At Richmond, Pastrana outqualified nearly all of the series' top regulars and outran most of them all night, including both of the season's winners, Darrell Wallace and Nelson Piquet Jr. It has Pastrana cautiously optimistic for the next step, which will come in a car fielded through collaboration between RAB Racing and Pastrana-Waltrip Racing.

"It gives you a little confidence," Pastrana said. "We're definitely not a top-three car [in K&N] and probably not a top-10 car in Nationwide, but I really feel good about the team and how much progress we're making and by qualifying well, that gave us the opportunity to be up there."

Greci agreed that "qualifying better means he's racing with better cars, and better racers. He's making a ton of progress, and every time he goes out, he's learning something. ... I think this is just a preview of things to come for him."