In this week’s interview, Speedway Media caught up with Travis Pastrana who recently made a Truck Series start at Kansas Speedway with Niece Motorsports. The Maryland native discusses what brought him to Niece for his latest NASCAR run. We also discussed his first NASCAR run in 2012 and 2013 and whether Pastrana would ever be open to doing a full-time schedule again.
SM: Let’s talk about your previous experience in NASCAR in what was then the Nationwide Series from 2012-2013. What drew you to NASCAR back then and made you want to give the sport a try? Was it difficult to try and find a ride?
TP: “Yeah, I mean for sure,” Pastrana said. “I won four off-road rally championships. It’s (the series) basically like off-road racing and I had plans on going to the WRC Championship and Subaru had pulled their funding from the WRC and that was the car I had kind of been in.”
“I had the chance to talk to Trevor Bayne and a couple of other guys. I went and hung out with Jimmie Johnson at Auto Club and he had won that day. I said to myself, ‘This is awesome. What would it take to get there?’ We just started talking. Rob (Benton) and Michael Waltrip (Team Owner who gave Travis a chance) were just awesome and asked me, what do you want to do? I said, ‘I would love to drive the Daytona 500 one day.’ They said, ‘well you just can’t jump in and drive the Daytona 500, but let’s start talking about a plan that will help get you there.’ I then started doing K&N Series, Late Models. I didn’t really know a lot about NASCAR. One of my friends (Irish Sanders) who was friends with Tony Stewart had got hurt and asked me if I wanted to race a Silver Crown car in two weeks. I said, ‘Sure. Sign me up.’ I showed up and got my butt handed to me. Despite that, I wanted to give racing a try and thought it was fun.”
SM: Your first start came at Richmond in 2012 where you started 25th and finished 22nd, two laps down. There seemed to be a huge learning curve for you as you adjusted to NASCAR. Can you explain the challenges of this type of racing and how it was different than what you had done before?
TP: “I think if you look at it, my qualifying results were significantly better than my race results and that was complete opposite than what I was in Motocross,” he said. “In motocross, you could find out how to take chances and do stuff no one was going to do. But in vehicles, it didn’t come down to how much time you were willing to put in, like prep and training (which made you a good motocross racer). In NASCAR, success came to research. Literally working with your crew chief. Going over all the notes and learning about the different aspects of the sport. Some of that was very foreign to me.”
“So for me, I think Chase Elliott is a great example. At age 15 or 16-years-old, he won his first K&N race in a race where I felt like Waltrip and the guys were the best car. It was the one time I got to a race (maybe one other time at Kentucky in Nationwide), where I was like, ‘Holy crap, we could win this race.’ I drove dead last all the way to second and then bumped Sergio Pena for the lead. It took all the air out of my car. And I was like, ‘I cannot believe this!’ All I had to do was relax. To sum it up, it comes down to how much you can work with your team. How you don’t use your tires up, etc.”
SM: Did you lean on any drivers when you first entered the sport?
TP: “Definitely, Brett Moffitt,” Pastrana said. “He took me under his wing. He (Moffitt) was getting in his Truck (at Kansas), gets out and runs to the back of the grid and he was like, ‘Hey when you’re doing restarts here, it’s not like an initial start. Seven to eight laps in, you will spin the tires.”
SM: Later on in 2012, you started driving for Jack Roush to race in the No. 60. What was it that brought you to Roush?
TP: “It wasn’t an offer, he said. “It was me going to him. I funded all of my own stuff. I took most of my savings and put it into NASCAR. People questioned me, ‘why did you quit?’ I just realized I wasn’t good enough. I was never good with pavement to be quite honest. For me, it was about making the best out of every situation.”
“Though, I loved (Greg) Biffle. Even Carl Edwards, one of my all-time heroes. Same thing with Trevor Bayne. I wanted to be under Trevor and learn from those guys. The 60 at the time was victorious in Nationwide. We did a test run and I was fastest in practice and we qualified fifth at Richmond, mI y first race with those guys (Roush). We ran up front and I was respectable in the race. That’s why I signed a contract with those guys.”
SM: At Talladega, you won your first career NASCAR pole. Was that a special moment for you knowing that you were still somewhat new to the sport?
TP: “The restrictor plate really came down to, you have to hit your marks, but if your team has a good car, that (qualifying on the pole) proved we had the best motors, Pastrana said. “So for me, it (winning the pole) was awesome. To be able to run up front, lead some laps was awesome. But I honestly think qualifying second at Kentucky was my most proudest moment even though I missed my lap.”
SM: Before the Kansas weekend, your first connection with Al Niece was the Las Vegas event back in 2017. What drew you to Niece and what sparked your interest in NASCAR again?
TP: “In 2017, I kept it (NASCAR) in the back of my mind and wanted to make a real effort,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily know when or how, but I knew what it took to be the best in the sport. I’m not saying I could be the best in the sport, I’m just saying I knew what you had to do to be successful. In my first year of the sport, I had my first kid and had another one (kid) on the way. I just thought to myself, I wanted to be a father and wanted to be sure, we were (my family) financial enough to do that. So, I went back to my regular job.”
“(However), I still wanted to give it (NASCAR) a shot. My car chief at Roush (Cody Efaw, now General Manager of Niece Motorsports) was starting a new team. He asked me, could you help us bring some sponsorship? I was able to do that and we had so much fun. Unfortunately, we did something stupid on the Truck, and couldn’t really get going. The race was pretty much close to their first start as a team. Al Niece (Team Owner) said to me, ‘Hey when we get ourselves a winning team and get a winning driver, you’ve got to come back. We wanted to thank you for helping put us on the map.’
“So Ross Chastain nearly won the championship last year. I literally got a call (last Wednesday afternoon) and the team (Kaulig Racing) said Chastain couldn’t drive both races because it’s hot and they were focusing on Xfinity efforts. He (Cody Efaw) told me that they (Niece) wanted to repay you and want you to drive our Truck. I said, ‘Yeah, I’m in, in a heartbeat.’
SM: What it was like being back in NASCAR that weekend and the race itself? Did you enjoy racing trucks?
TP: “Yeah, I did,” Pastrana said about racing in the Trucks at Kansas. “It was disappointing we had a tire go down in the first run. I was like alright, just don’t get lapped. We were super free. We would work our way up to 20th and then they (NASCAR) would put the lead cars back on the lead lap. What I really wanted to do was get behind some of the top guys and figure out what I was doing.”
“When we were tight on the second stage, I was right around 10th place. So, I was three tenths off of where I needed to be to run up front. I still was pretty happy with that. I know Kansas was pretty dirt track, if you will. It’s not a dirt track pavement, but you’re slipping and sliding. You have to be perfect.”
SM: Are you open to more NASCAR opportunities in the future such as a full-time ride in the Truck Series and the chance to compete for a championship?
TP: “I really love to race,” he said. “But knowing right now where I am at with life, I don’t have time to take this seriously enough where I deserve a full-time ride or take a ride away from an up and coming kid or a driver of any kind. I would step into that role in a heartbeat, but also understand, I’m not good enough at the moment without putting in a lot more time. (NASCAR) takes a lot of time and passion. If it was just the races on the weekend, then no problem.”
“In order for me to be the driver I want to be, it would be every waking second of the day of trying to figure it out. I love that challenge, I love NASCAR. I was thankful enough for Cody (Efaw) and Al (Niece) to give me another opportunity. I’m not expecting more opportunities (in the future). Unless, it’s a mile and a half, or helping younger prospects.”
SM: With that in mind, where would you like for your last NASCAR start to be?
TP: “The Daytona 500,” Pastrana said. “That race has always been on my bucket list.”
SM: Wrapping it up, when you look back on your NASCAR career, what’s one moment or memory that will stick out to you?
TP: “I think it’s the comradery,” he said. “To have Joey Logano step in my car one time because he was following me and he thought he was loose. He jumped in my car at New Hampshire during practice. The same thing can go for Denny Hamlin at Richmond. He waits for me to go out. I wasn’t even ready to go out and he was like, ‘Hey, You about ready to go out?’ I said, ‘no.’ Denny responds, ‘I’ll wait for you at the exit.’ I was blown away by that moment of Denny wanting to see me succeed. For me, that really meant a lot. That was very cool.”
In Pastrana’s NASCAR career, the Maryland native has a total of 42 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts with four top 10 finishes and one pole, with a best finish of ninth at Richmond. In addition, Pastrana has four Truck Series starts and 11 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Starts (earning a best finish of fourth at Iowa in 2012).
Special thanks to Travis Pastrana for taking time out of his busy schedule to do the interview and special thanks to Michelle Brachowski for coordinating the interview.