Sports Car Modification

Pastrana On Daytona 500 Attempt: ‘Now Is The Time’

Travis Pastrana has attempted everything imaginable in motorsports. Whether that be motocross, rallycross, monster trucks, stadium super trucks, sports cars, and even a full NASCAR Xfinity Series slate 10 years ago. 

Though there is one event Pastrana has had on his bucket list for decades — The Daytona 500. 

The 39-year-old swiss army knife of anything on wheels will attempt to qualify for next Sunday’s Great American Race at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway aboard the No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota. 

Despite never competing in a NASCAR Cup Series car, it won’t be the first time Pastrana has taken on the 2.5-mile oval. In 2013, the Annapolis, Md., native qualified inside the top-five in both Xfinity Series events at Daytona, highlighted by a 10th-place result in the season opener.

“At the end of the day, I always wanted to get to the 500,” Pastrana told SPEED SPORT. “I didn’t make it in NASCAR. Rear-wheel drive is not my specialty, pavement is difficult. At the end of the day, I didn’t know a lot about high-speed stuff coming from motocross and then rally.”

While his background came from competing on two wheels, Pastrana’s recent four-wheel experience gave him a spark. Running in the famous action-driving series of Gymkhana, along with scoring two Pikes Peak International Hill Climb class victories, Pastrana gained confidence on pavement. 

“I thought, ‘You know what, we’ve got great sponsorship, this is the best I’ve ever driven, it’s the most time I’ve ever had on pavement, it’s the most seat time I’ve ever had on anything.’

“Talking to my wife, I’m really wanting to start kind of slowing down a little bit more now that the kids are competing every weekend,” Pastrana said. “I’m missing a lot of what they’re doing. I’m running four different series. We won the Offshore Powerboat World Championship last year, the rally championship, rallycross, we’re doing everything that you can imagine.”

Thus, Pastrana came to a conclusion. 

“I said, ‘Look, if I’m going to go for the Daytona 500, now is the time.’ We’re coming off some good seasons, good sponsorship,” Pastrana said. “Black Rifle (Coffee) had asked what I wanted to do about a year ago.

“I was like, ‘You know what, can we do the Daytona 500?’”

A simple question turned into a reality after a handful of phone calls led Pastrana to Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan’s 23XI Racing.

Pastrana in 2013 at Road America. (Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)

“So we started talking to some teams, and most of them were like, ‘Yeah, sure, bring your money.’ You talked to Denny and the 23XI team, and it was the first team that I really felt believed in me, that believed that I could be an asset to the team,” Pastrana said.

“They want to win. Everyone does, but the 23XI team, when we started talking, they were, ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you a car that might be the best car in the fleet. It’s not going to be a third-tier car, we’re not testing all the motors and seeing which one’s the quickest.

“‘We’ll give you exactly what we’re giving Bubba (Wallace) and Tyler (Reddick), and we’ll have the same meetings and the same strategies. We believe that you can get in there and be an extra Toyota that’s going to help push, or that’s going to help block, it’s going to help our team win.’”

That seal of confidence from the organization was everything Pastrana needed.

The next hurdle for Pastrana is Wednesday’s qualifying. Two laps of single-car runs will set the front row for the Great American Race, along with the lineup for the two 150-mile duels the following evening.

Competing in a non-charter entry, Pastrana will battle it out for one of the four spots available in the 500 to cars not locked in with charters. Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and NTT IndyCar Series star Conor Daly are among the other drivers vying for those four spots. 

Without practice prior to exiting pit lane on Wednesday night, Pastrana will have to lean on his teammates and extensive sessions in the Toyota simulator. 

“We’ve had two pretty long sessions in there and you don’t get the feel of the speed, but I know my lines, I know my marks, I know what I have to hit to turn a fast lap,” Pastrana said. “I know those guys are gonna give me a great car.”

Another wrinkle in qualifying will be the lack of right-side suspension, adding to the level of difficulty maneuvering around the superspeedway.   

“I didn’t realize they took the suspension out, at least the right side, for qualifying,” Pastrana said. “So they’re like, ‘Man, this is gonna be the worst handling car you’ve ever had. It’s gonna be bouncing around, don’t spin it getting up to speed.’

“I’m like, ‘Oh, man, that could be pretty embarrassing, but it’s gonna be fun.’”

Despite the various hurdles ahead, Pastrana is soaking up the Florida Speedweeks experience. 

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Travis Pastrana in victory lane at Volusia Speedway Park. (Paul Arch photo)

This past week, Pastrana drove a modified during the 52nd annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, located less than 30 minutes from the World Center of Racing. 

Not only did Pastrana take on the legendary half-mile dirt track, but he won one of the six features on Thursday night’s program, earning a coveted gator trophy.

“Oh, that was awesome. They reversed the field, so I crashed the first night, I got a sixth the second night, then missed the third night,” Pastrana said. “So I was like 88th (in points) or something.

“It was a little deceiving there. Definitely something that was awesome. Just to get a little experience and kind of get out front where I could learn how to drive the modified.”

For some, Pastrana’s attempt to compete in the Daytona 500 is ludicrous. However, his all or nothing personality is ready to soak up the moment and enjoy the road that lies ahead.

“That’s kind of my soul black rifle. I’m like, ‘Look, let’s go out and let’s sign autographs, let’s go to Bass Pro Shops, let’s hang out in the stands. Let’s hang out in the infield. Let’s, just bring a group that’s going to make this race.’

“It’s the most amazing race in the world,” Pastrana said. “But let’s try to add something to it.”

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