Travis Pastrana doesn't disappoint in debut

April, 27, 2012
04/27/12
9:07
PM ET

RICHMOND, Va. -- Seventy-three laps into his Nationwide Series debut Friday night at Richmond International Raceway, running under caution after a better-than-average pit stop, Travis Pastrana asked where he was on the leaderboard.

"You can't see the pace car, so that's all that matters," crew chief Scott Zipadelli said, trying to keep things real.

Replied Pastrana, then in 24th, "Good point."

Yes, the X Games star was a bit overanxious to get to the front, where he's been on every level prior to this transition into NASCAR. But if his 22nd-place finish was an indication of how he'll progress -- it could have been 17th if not for a pit-road speeding penalty -- it won't take him long to get there.

Short of finishing on the lead lap and beating the two female drivers -- Danica Patrick (21st) and Johanna Long (20th) -- Pastrana met most of his goals.

And he had a lot of fun.

"Dang, Danica," Pastrana said as he sat in his car on pit road.

Pastrana had a bet with a friend that if he didn't beat Patrick and Long, he would donate money to a charity. The speeding penalty on his first green-flag pit stop of his NASCAR career cost him that and a chance to finish on the lead lap.

Until then, Pastrana was sailing, at one point passing former Nationwide Series champion Brad Keselowski.

"You were fabulous," shouted his wife, Lyn-Z, as she approached the car.

Pastrana looked at the infield scoreboard, realizing he was two laps down, and replied, "I got beat by both girls."

Said Lyn-Z, who is starting to like this NASCAR thing, "Maybe if it wasn't for the mullet you could have beat them."

In case you missed it, five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson gave Pastrana a mullet with a pair of metal cutting sheers as part of a spoof video on what it takes to be a champion.

Listening to Pastrana communicate with Zipadelli, using all the correct terminology -- loose in, tight off -- and watching him at times drive the same speed as cars in the top 10 made you believe he can be a champion one day.

"I don't know where he got all that from," Zipadelli said of the terminology. "He told me exactly what his issues were."

Pastrana got the attention of Patrick, who like Pastrana is converting from one form of motorsports to another.

"Travis did a really great job," Patrick said. "I was really impressed."

Speeding penalty aside, it was hard not to be impressed. Pastrana handled the turns for the most part with the accuracy it takes to perform a flip on a motorcycle.

He believes he can contend for top-20s in his remaining six races this season, maybe even a few top-10s, and contend for wins sometime next year or early the year after. Those around him believe he can do it. There were thoughts of him doing it on this night.

On Lap 123, Zipadelli said, "You can almost see the pace car now."

"Exactly," Pastrana said, adding, "I'm ahead of both the girls in the race."

Then came the speeding penalty for exiting too fast with just less than 50 laps to go.

"I just got excited," Pastrana said.

You hardly can blame him. He comes from the extreme sports arena, where adrenaline flows hard, where there are no brakes on going fast.

But one mistake aside, this was an overwhelming success.

And Pastrana knew it.

"Helluva ride," he said. "Helluva ride. Sorry it wasn't the best finish, but, man, that was a lot of fun."

Oh, in case you were wondering, Kurt Busch beat Denny Hamlin in a thrilling side-by-side race to the finish.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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