Time to end the Travis Pastrana experiment
Two years ago, the announcement that Travis Pastrana made headlines around both the extreme sports and racing worlds. Pastrana, known best for his exploits on a motorcycle and in a rally car, looked to make the transition to full-time stock car racing. He'd shown an ability to race anything on two or four wheels and had the kind of car control that was thought to translate well to virtually any form of racing. But as those years have passed, Pastrana has struggled to finish races and is no closer to being competitive today than he was when the announcement was made. The time is rapidly approaching to pull the plug on the Travis Pastrana experiment.
Saturday night's Nationwide race at Kentucky was just the latest in a long line of poor results for the driver. Despite a good starting position at 8th, Pastrana dropped like a rock once the the green flag fell. He spun out and wrecked his #60 Ford and finished in 34th place, 141 laps down in a 200 lap race. It's the fifth time this season his day has ended on the wrecker but far from the fifth time his car has gone around and put the driver deep into the field. Altogether, it's the ninth time Pastrana has finished seven or more laps off the pace this year. It's also not a case of “checkers or wreckers” for the talented rally driver; his Nationwide career isn't exactly littered with high finishes either.
Pastrana causes "The Big One" earlier at Daytona
Compare the two year period for the following drivers:
- Driver A. Competed in 45 Nationwide races at ages 29 and 30. Scored one top five and seven top ten finishes with one pole start. Driver led 55 laps with an average start of 16.55 and an average finish of 18.1. Driver had 22 lead lap finishes for a percentage of 48.9%; also was running at the finish of 37 races for a percentage of 82.2%.
- Driver B. Competed in 36 Nationwide races at ages 28 and 29. Scored zero top five and four top ten finishes with one pole start. Driver led 11 laps with an average start of 23.5 and an average finish of 21.3. Driver had 15 lead lap finishes for a percentage of 41.7%; also was running at the finish of 30 races for a percentage of 83.3%.
Travis Pastrana's book, on Amazon
One of those drivers is Travis Pastrana. The other driver is another driver who first made their name in another form of racing before joining NASCAR- Danica Patrick. While popular with a number of fans, Patrick is also routinely criticized by a large portion of the fan base. They say that she has received rides she does not deserve and that her on track performance does not justify her continued presence in the series. Yet many of those same fans will say they're excited to see Pastrana drive and are rooting for him to succeed and someday move to the Cup level. The double standard is astounding; when looking at their performance, the two drivers put up essentially the same numbers during their Nationwide “learning” periods.
Patrick also made genuine progress, particularly when she left open wheel behind entirely and focused her attention on stock car racing. While she had five wrecks in 2012, the majority of them came from being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile, the majority of Pastrana's wrecks have come with virtually no one around. He simply cannot control the car- the very thing that has been his calling card in the past. Luck is something outside of a driver's control, but spinning out coming off of a corner absolutely is.
Pastrana himself admits that he entered the 2013 not ready for NASCAR. On his webpage, Pastrana wrote in February, “I'll be the first to admit that I'm in over my head with a sport that is a far cry from my 2 wheel / dirt roots... (but) I'd never forgive myself if I didn't take this opportunity to see if I have what it takes to be a Champion again.” His honesty is refreshing but telling. After running nine Nationwide races last year, he knew that he had a long way to go to even be competitive at that level. Yet instead of swallowing his pride and taking a step back (to either the ARCA or K&N Pro Series), he forged ahead this season to run full time with Roush-Fenway Racing.
The equipment isn't holding Pastrana back. Ricky Stenhouse Jr has won the last two Nationwide driver titles driving an RFR car. The #60 itself is only two years removed from Carl Edwards driving it to eight wins and 23 top five finishes in 33 races. Overall, the team has 132 Nationwide wins in its 21 year history. The speed of their cars in fact is why Pastrana put up the cash in the first place.
That's another key difference between Pastrana and Patrick. Danica had a long-time sponsor in GoDaddy that wanted to go along for the ride. They were willing to bankroll her learning curve in stock car racing because they believed in her as a driver. Pastrana has a similar long term relationship with Red Bull yet he had zero success in convincing the company in trying their hand at NASCAR once again. Part of that was the failure of Red Bull Racing as a team; they exited the sport after a handful of mainly futile seasons at the Cup level.
But another part was what they learned in the process. Succeeding in NASCAR takes more than a marketable face or a big name. It takes more than a demonstrated ability to drive in other series. It takes actual stock car racing experience and a track record for success in that environment. They'd lost millions supporting drivers such as A.J. Allmendinger and Scott Speed under similar circumstances. Why lose millions more in what seems to be a vanity project for Pastrana?
Therein lies the final major difference between Pastrana and Patrick. After announcing the desire to try his hand at NASCAR, ESPN did a major cross-promotion between its X-Games event and his scheduled Nationwide debut. Dubbed as “Pastranathon”, the network spent serious advertising dollars to hype Pastrana's stock car debut. The event was a Dan vs. Dave-level failure when an X-Games crash cost Pastrana a broken foot and ankle. He finished the weekend with a final kick in the teeth to NASCAR fans by competing in another X-Games event despite the injury. There was no realistic way Pastrana could have competed in the Nationwide race but it still left the impression that stock cars didn't matter to him. Meanwhile, Patrick gave up open wheel racing (and any other major outside endeavors outside of sponsor commitments) to focus her attention solely on becoming a better stock car racer.
Travis Pastrana is a remarkable athlete. He came to national prominence as a Moto-X rider, winning numerous X-Games medals and setting countless records. He reinvented himself as a rally car driver, continuing to win races and set records on an annual basis. But the ability to jump a car over the Long Beach harbor is not the same as the ability to perfect the corner entry in a stock car. The ability to perform mid-air tricks on a motorcycle is not the same as knowing how and when to go three wide into a turn. There is virtually nothing in Pastrana's first two years of Nationwide racing to suggest he has the skill set or temperament to become a successful stock car driver.
Pastrana may be better served by considering spending time in another series. The Grand Am cars and tracks reward an aggressive driver and Pastrana's rally history shows he's certainly that. The tracks also offer left and right turns, something a little bit closer to what he's done in the past. The schedule would also be less punitive given his desire to continue running X-Games events and rally car races. At the very least, Pastrana should take a look at his results to date and listen to the wise words of that famous philosopher, Kenny Rogers.
- “And the night got deathly quiet
- And his face lost all expression
- Said if you're gonna play the game boy
- You gotta learn to play it right
- You got to know when to hold 'em
- Know when to fold em
- Know when to walk away
- And know when to run.”