Travis Pastrana Is Headed for the 2023 Daytona 500


UPDATE 16/02/2023: Travis Pastrana’s practice and focus clearly paid off as he posted the 25th fastest lap in the no. 67 23XI Racing Toyota drives and earned a spot in the 2023 running of the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson claimed the other open spot with the 23rd fastest lap. . Pastrana and Johnson beat out four other hopefuls for the chance to race. As he exited the car, Pastrana fist bumped his crew and said with a smile, “Hot diggity dog.” Now that’s a winning quote. The Daytona 500 begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, February 19.

Travis Pastrana’s bucket list has a lot crossed off. He won championships on both two wheels and four, racing motocross, supercross, rally car and off-road. He jumped cars with Ken Block and tackled mountains at Pikes Peak. He’s not even new to NASCAR, racing both the Craftsman Truck Series and the Xfinity Series. But in all the twists, turns and burnouts of Pastrana’s career, there’s one race he’s never had a chance to start: the Daytona 500.

For the 2023 run, Pastrana, with help from 23XI Racing [That’s 23-eleven], Black Rifle Coffee, and Toyota, are hoping to check a Cup car run at NASCAR’s most famous speedway off the list and take the green flag in the No. 67 Toyota Camry TRD. However, it is not a foregone conclusion; NASCAR fills the four open spots in the Daytona field through a qualifying effort, and Pastrana will battle racers including Jimmie Johnson for a spot. In typical Pastrana fashion, he’s just excited about the chance to do something fun in a car.

We caught up for a quick chat about going fast in a stock car.

C/D: With all you’ve done, what’s the draw of Daytona?

TP: This is the great American breed. I think this is every redneck American’s dream from the time they are young to . . .[He pauses, clearly concerned about his wording]

I use redneck with . . . I mean, I’m definitely a redneck.

Used with love.

Yes! It was the one occasion my whole family came together for. Friends, family, family, long lost family. It has always had a special place in my heart. Also, Daytona, that was my first win in Supercross, in that infield, so it’s a cool place and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it.

You race many types of motor sports. This was normal in the 60s, but then racing became very segregated by specialty. Recently there has been more exchange. For example, Tony Stewart going drag racing, Indy drivers watching F1, stock car drivers at Indy, and so on. Are we going to see more people moving from one type of racing to another?

Unser and Andretti, chasing it all. That’s what racing was all about. It used to be that you only had a few big events a year, in the NASCAR series or the Indy series, and drivers just wanted to drive. They loved driving. They had so much passion. But now, how many races do the NASCAR guys have in a year? I see it with motocross, they work so hard and it costs so much and you have to do it all, be a great driver, speak very well, promote. By the time you get to the top, you burn out. But I think what we’re seeing is that the managers who have established names, when they get to the end of their careers, they say, “You know what? It’s become a job. I really want to have fun. I’ve got my loved racing all my life and I’m going to do it again for the passion.”

I didn’t realize how many great drivers would try to qualify, but I want to earn my way.

Is that what racing the Daytona 500 is for you?

Well, I was disappointed at the end of my first NASCAR season when we ended up crashing at Daytona. I almost cried. My dad says, “I’d give my left arm to have the opportunity to do one lap around Daytona at 200 miles an hour. And slide backwards through the infield, to make it through that safely? I’d give my other arm. , my right arm, to be able to experience how it felt.” Only he didn’t say “poor”. So, yeah, you know what? I’m almost 40 years old and I’d rather not do good—I mean, I’d feel awful if I did anything to aggravate someone else’s race—but at worst, I tried. And I feel like for me to go out there and try to be a part of this race is so much more important to me than to hang on to my reputation and one day say, “I was very good here to do this, but I never gave it a chance.”

Okay, so you have a healthy attitude about this, but you still need to qualify. Are you worried about it?

It’s scary. I didn’t realize how many great drivers and how many great cars are going to try to qualify this year, but I want to earn my way.

What’s really difficult is that my first time ever in a Cup car at Daytona—at least, my first time in a Cup car outside of second gear, I was practicing in the pit the other day—my qualifying run will be. It all depends on how well you get through those gears and how smoothly you run those two laps. Any movement in the wheel, it drops you 10 places in qualifying. It’s going to be extremely difficult for me to never drive that car. It is extremely difficult for anyone anyway. But hey, my first race there, in the lower class [Xfinity series] I finished backwards, but I still finished in the top 10.

Is driving a stock car radically different from driving a rally car, or racing a bike?

In motocross, they say, “When in doubt, throttle out.” Same thing with four wheel drive. When things get too sideways, you aim and that right foot just goes to the floor. So when I got nervous in NASCAR, I tended to give it more gas to solve the problem, and that’s not what works on pavement, that’s not what works in rear-wheel drive, and, frankly, that’s not what works at 190 miles per hour. Things happen too fast. Things escalate quickly.

When I used to race stock cars, I struggled with rear wheel drive, with aerodynamics, with understanding the concept and with pavement. I have had a lot more experience on pavement in the last 10 years. I was very successful in Rallycross. Scott Speed ​​​​being in my team, with F1 experience, helped me understand how I need to think differently to be competitive. I’ll never have a career in NASCAR, but I believe I can drive well enough, and I’m with a very solid team.

Tell us about 23XI. What drew you to them, or them to you?

This is a team that really wants me to do well, it’s going to give me the best possible way forward. Denny Hamlin won three Daytona 500s. He is probably the most successful restrictor plate racer out there. He has so much knowledge to give and this is a new team still looking to build their brand. This is an opportunity. This is a team that isn’t going to fall back on hierarchy, isn’t going to say, “You’re our fourth driver, you get the fourth best car and the fourth best of whatever.” I came in and they said, “We’ve got the same crew chief going over everything. We’re going to start all the cars the same. Whatever Bubba [Wallace] get, you get.” For a manager to know that you have equal equipment and that it’s up to you to prove yourself, that means a lot. I think that’s where I can put my best foot forward.

What else is on the list? Do you have a bucket list of different riding things you want to do and it was there?

There were only two things on my list that didn’t have the word “win” in front of them. One was driving a Top Fuel dragster, and I was able to check that off the list with Scott Palmer [in 2022]. That was the other one, racing the Daytona 500. I would love to win the Baja 1000 in a trophy truck. I think this is something that is feasible that could happen down the road. But as far as my bucket list of things I want to be a part of, maybe Dakar is the only other race I haven’t done that I truly think would be a great experience. But to get the opportunity at Daytona this year to try to be a part of it is a dream come true.

Well, you’re somewhat famous for making it all look like a lot of fun.

Because it’s a lot of fun.