By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After avoiding all the mayhem until the end, Travis Pastrana was in the hunt in the closing laps of Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Riding in the second pack with Bubba Wallace, his 23XI Racing teammate, the No. 67 Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry was untouched by the time a caution for a spin by Daniel Suarez pushed the race into overtime. Pastrana had been just inside the top-20 and moved up to 12th.
The action sports legend avoided the first overtime melee when Austin Dillon was turned. The ensuing wreck wiped out several top contenders including Dillon, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, and Justin Haley.
Now inside the top-10, Pastrana followed his Toyota Racing teammate forward. That was until contact from Aric Almirola sent the Annapolis, MD native into Kyle Larson. Pastrana almost escaped with minor damage until a spinning Brad Keselowski sent him into the outside wall. The 39-year-old ultimately finished in 11th.
“Man, that was going really, really well until the last lap,” Pastrana said. “Had a not great pit, then had a pit penalty, so I had to come back in, that got us a lap down, but the crew never stopped working. We had a great car.
“I was a little loose up top but that’s where the run was coming and just got a little tap. (Daytona) looks a lot wider on TV but as it turns out its pretty narrow. I got a tap, started sliding, and I got into the guy (Larson) underneath me. That was pretty much all she wrote.
“It was pretty exciting to be in the hunt for a potential top-five coming to the checkered. I can’t say enough about the 23XI Toyota and all of the guys out there that were working with me. It was pretty cool.”
While the finish was wild for Pastrana, the first portion of the race was chaotic. He was the final driver to pit during the first round of green flag pit stops. That allowed him to lead two laps at the 100-mile mark of the race. Staying out was a mistake, he had already passed pit entrance.
However, Pastrana drove through too many pit stalls. The ensuing penalty was a pass-thru on pit road because it was under green. He ultimately lost a lap. Pastrana moved back onto the lead lap by taking the wave around during a lap 183 caution for a seven-car pileup.
“I led a lap, but it was by mistake,” Pastrana stated. “They said, ‘Come in, no stay out.’ I’m like, ‘I’m already out.’ I led a lap at the Daytona 500 and finished top-20. The car is not a complete write off, so the kid’s college fund is intact. It was a win [in my book], and it was awesome.”
The emotions for Pastrana were draining. Competing at Daytona Int’l Speedway in the Daytona 500 was a dream for the Nitro Circus ringleader. On top of the NASCAR Cup Series season opener, he also competed in the Craftsman Truck Series night on Friday night.
“As excited as I am right now, I might sleep for the next week,” Pastrana joked. “I am mentally and physically completely drained. Even the Truck race, my heart rate was 170 in a three-wide pack. 182 was my high. That’s just on adrenaline. Anyone that says NASCAR is boring, they’re full of crap. They’ve definitely never been in a car because this was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”
Throughout the entire race weekend Pastrana honored the late Ken Block. He had a logo on the name rail emblazoned with Block’s name. The Gymkhana and rally racing legend passed away following a snowmobile accident in January. Block’s widow and kids were guests of Pastrana for qualifying.
“This was one of the greatest if not the greatest weeks or couple of weeks of my life,” Pastrana said. “Just coming here and even to go down to Volusia and camping with (Matt) Crafton and all the fans that came down there.
“Then realizing there were three guys that did the Clash and flew the red eye. These guys just love to drive. The Blocks came here just to watch me qualify and I’ve got all my friends and family here.”
For Pastrana, the Daytona 500 is a ‘one and done’ race. However, he does keep the door open to potentially compete more in the Truck Series for Niece Motorsports. With a complete Speedweeks experience checked off the list, the action sports star now begins to slow down.