Commentary

Finally, it's Travis Pastrana time!

Updated: April 27, 2012, 1:14 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- Travis Pastrana may become the biggest star in NASCAR, opening the sport to demographics it never has been able to reach. Or he may become the sport's biggest disappointment, unable to turn the daredevil attitude that made him great in action sports into success in stock cars.

Whatever happens, he'll make an impression.

He already has.

The 28-year-old X Games star barely had stepped into the media center at Richmond International Raceway on Thursday when requests began to see his new haircut.

[+] EnlargePastrana
David Newton/ESPN.comTravis Pastrana will rock the mullet in his Nationwide Series debut Friday night at Richmond.

Yes, Pastrana has a mullet, as five-time Sprint Cup Jimmie Johnson leaked to the world on Tuesday.

The cut was part of a video (see YouTube) Pastrana made with "Nitro Circus" buddy Andy Bell and Johnson. It's titled "Five steps to becoming NASCAR champion."

In it, you'll see Pastrana do everything from diving into a frozen lake in a Speedo to having Johnson use a pair of metal cutting shears to give him the official NASCAR mullet.

Johnson is wearing a fake mullet in the beginning, too.

The fifth step in this almost slapstick film is Friday night's Nationwide Series race at RIR. That's when Pastrana will make his NASCAR debut -- his initial debut was delayed in July when he suffered a broken ankle in a motorcycle fall at the X Games.

It's hard to take Pastrana serious watching the video in which Bell is attempting to become a NASCAR fan as his friend attempts to become a NASCAR champion.

But, trust me, Pastrana is as serious about this as anything he has done.

Maybe more.

"Obviously, with the mullet and everything, it looks like fun and games on the outside," said Pastrana, whose debut will come in the RAB Racing No. 99. "But anyone that has been at the top of any sport knows what it takes to get there. I'm willing to put in that work."

NASCAR needs Pastrana to succeed. He attracts that 18- to 34-year-old demographic that the sport struggles to reach. He's the guy who could get the middle-aged father and 16-year-old skateboard son in front of the television to watch a race together.

He could be bigger than Danica Patrick.

Or he could be a complete flop.

But one thing is for sure, Pastrana knows how to sell the sport. He talked of being ridiculed for coming to a world perceived to be redneck and how he already has turned around 10 buddies who gave him a hard time all the way to Daytona in February.

"That first car came by on that first green-flag lap," Pastrana said. "Everyone of those guys is going to be here. Everyone of those guys is going to be at Dover and they're bringing more people. It's a matter of coming out and experiencing it."

Pastrana may be new to the sport, but he understands the issues. He says NASCAR's problem isn't getting people to like it, it's getting people to understand it.

"Everyone is saying, 'Ah, NASCAR really needs you,'" Pastrana said. "That may be true, but your demographic is so much bigger than anything we have in action sports."

Pastrana also understands what it takes to reach true NASCAR fans. He tossed out the names of David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt like he would Anthony Napolitan and Ryan Sheckler in that other sport that made him famous.

Adding Pastrana to the mix in a Nationwide Series that already has a boost from Patrick and fewer full-time Cup drivers can't help but be a plus for the entire sport.

I want to figure out how to get to the top of this sport, and that's where I want to go.

-- Travis Pastrana

"Having Travis in this series makes a positive even better," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "His presence brings his legions of action sports fans to us, helping us grow our fan base now and in the future."

But Pastrana isn't here to grow the fan base. He's here to rock the world of traditional stock car drivers. Like the video says, he "rocks the mullet."

"I'm going to be picked on or made fun of," said Pastrana, whose best finish in stock car was 12th in a K&N Pro Series East race. "I'm sure I'm sure going to crash some people. I'm sure I'm going to be a lot of the stories and topics.

"Then everything is going to fade away. It's up to me at that point to find a sponsorship … to keep coming back to these races even after people don't care. I want to figure out how to get to the top of this sport, and that's where I want to go."

So what if he has a little fun with the mullet and video. So what if the bright yellow motor coach he used as a home base in action sports stands out in the driver's lot more than the mullet in a room full of bald men.

And it does stand out.

"That's the first thing all of us drivers see when we pull in the motor home lot," Denny Hamlin said.

They also see Pastrana's value to the sport.

"A 'breath of fresh air' type of guy," Hamlin said. "He's outgoing. He's obviously not afraid to take chances. Whether it's going to be the big media buzz that Danica brought to the sport, I doubt, but it's overall good for our sport to have someone like him in it."

And if Pastrana needed more motivation to succeed here, he agreed to keep his mullet until he wins a NASCAR race.

"Probably not the best sponsor move I could have made before the biggest event of my entire life," Pastrana said of the haircut. "Look, we're here to race and to do the best we can. But we're also here to have a good time."

Nobody says you can't do both.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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