Commentary

Pastrana, Roush hit it off

Originally Published: February 10, 2013
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Travis PastranaStreeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCARTravis Pastrana may not look like he will fit in at Roush Fenway Racing, but he seems to be doing fine so far.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Imagine two strangers that speak different languages meeting for the first time without an interpreter. Imagine that one is 6-foot-2 and a hipster dresser, and the other a foot shorter looking like he stepped out of an "Indiana Jones" movie set.

If you can envision that image, you've got an idea of what it was like the first time action sports legend Travis Pastrana met Roush Fenway Racing owner and soon-to-be boss Jack Roush.

Here's how it went from Pastrana's perspective as Roush talked about auditioning him last season in his Nationwide Series car for the September race in Richmond.

Roush: "So, obviously, you're not coming here [NASCAR] because it's flashy and you want to have fun."

Pastrana: "Well, I want to have fun."

Roush: "Do you want to have fun or win?"

Pastrana: "Wait, is this a trick question? I want to do both."

Roush: "If you're here [RFR], it's because you want to win."

Pastrana: "I want to win."

Roush: "You're not going to do something else and hurt yourself after the season, right?"

Pastrana: "No sir."

Roush: "We want to know in five years what you plan on doing."

[+] EnlargeJack Roush
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCARJack Roush wanted to know a lot from Travis Pastrana, but the most important question he had for extreme sports superstar was whether or not he just wanted to have fun, or to win.

Pastrana: "Well … "

Roush: "No 'wells.' What are you going to be doing?"

Pastrana: "I'm going to be racing Cup."

Roush: "Are you going to be racing or winning?"

Pastrana: "Jack, I'm going to be winning [Sprint] Cup races."

Roush: "Good. You're racing Richmond. You better show us some speed and you better not crash my car."

"And that was pretty much my first conversation," Pastrana recalled. "No pressure. I was really confused, but it worked out pretty well, I think."

Well, indeed.

Pastrana's 17th-place finish at Richmond and ensuing conversations with Roush were enough to earn him a full-time ride in the No. 60 RFR car that has been to Victory Lane more than any in the Nationwide Series.

As much excitement as you sense heading into a season in which more drivers legitimately have a shot to win the title than there has been in a long time, Pastrana may be the best reason to look forward to 2013.

He represents a young, edgy demographic that not even Danica Patrick touched.

"He's breaking the mold so I don't have to," said Trevor Bayne, who will drive the No. 6 RFR Nationwide car that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drove to the past two titles. "His car looks crazy and he wears cool clothes. He's getting the youth going here. That's something NASCAR can really use, and Travis can help with that."

On the surface, it's an odd fit for Roush. Pastrana, 29, is one of the most colorful personalities in sports. He is a fast talker and comes from a world of stunts and reality television.

Roush, 70, is from a buttoned-up world of science and algorithms. His words are calculated, often slow to surface.

The RFR stop on the Sprint Media Tour last month said it all. Pastrana arrived in a plaid sports jacket and Red Bull cap, while the other drivers wore black suits. The paint scheme on his car looked like a 1970s tie-dyed shirt with splashes of bright yellow, blue and fuchsia.

It was loud.

But there's something here that clicks. Perhaps it's that Roush is a bit of a daredevil, flying his P-51 Mustang with the same carefree attitude that Pastrana jumps motorcycles.

More than likely it has to do with their desire to succeed. As Roush said when asked if Pastrana fit the RFR culture: "He's motivated. He's driven. He's ambitious. And that fits in very well."

"The fact that he had the X Games and Rally Series and all the other exhibition things he's done was different," Roush continued. "His venture into stock car racing can't be a passing fad. You've got to get yourself up to speed. By the time you've got yourself up to speed you've got an investment.

"If you're not inclined to stay for a while, you really spend a lot of time that's not going to have a payoff."

Pastrana is committed. This isn't like attempting his famous double backflip just to say he could do it. He believes he can compete for wins and championships in the Nationwide Series, and eventually Cup series.

Despite the potential sponsorship he brings to RFR, Roush wouldn't have him any other way.

"We've all learned in this sport you don't bring somebody over just because of the appeal you may think they have with a different demographic," RFR president Steve Newmark said. "You bring them into this sport if you think they can drive."

Pastrana can drive. He finished sixth in the 2011 Toyota All-Star Showdown, his first venture into NASCAR competition. He was 22nd in his first Nationwide race last season at the spring Richmond race in a Michael Waltrip Racing car and 17th in his next at Darlington.

In his tryout for RFR at Richmond, he qualified fifth and finished 17th. His average starting position in nine Nationwide races was 22.1 and his average finish was 21.4.

To put that into perspective, Patrick's average starting position was 26.9 and average finish was 28.0 in her first 13 races of 2010.

You get the feeling he will progress at a faster rate than Patrick, too.

[+] EnlargeTravis Pastrana
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images/NASCARTravis Pastrana may be a better fit at Roush Fenway Racing than his choice of attire would indicate.

"Yeah, if I don't do well people are going to go, 'Oh, he failed. Oh, he couldn't make it in that. Oh, he's not as good of a driver as we thought,'" Pastrana said. "I had more to lose by going to NASCAR than I had to gain. I really, and I mean this with all due respect to the fans, am doing this because I'm passionate about it and it makes me happy."

Pastrana isn't arrogant or aloof because of his accomplishments in other forms of motorsports. He's as humble and unpretentious as any athlete of his stature you'll meet.

That's why he blends in so well with people like Roush.

"If he was coming in all goofy and to have fun, Jack wouldn't be about that," Bayne said.

That's not to say goofy isn't allowed at RFR. Just look at the video Pastrana posted on Twitter of Roush taking him for a spin in his P-51 the day he signed his contract.

"Jack got me out here to his hangar and he's been telling me all about his planes, and then he's going to try to get the negotiation upper hand and scare the living crap out of me," Pastrana said on the video. "I'm not bad with being scared -- you've got to do something really dumb -- but I have a feeling that Jack can probably do that."

Roush, who has survived two plane crashes -- the second leaving him with one eye -- responded, "We celebrated the agreement with a Mustang ride today and I'm sure it was one of the most lame things Travis has ever done, but it excited me pretty much."

As different as they are, they're both quirky.

"Travis has blended in unbelievably," Newmark said. "You watch him interact with Jack and the other drivers and it's like he's been a part of the organization for years."

Remember, this is a driver that to his first stock car race wore a T-shirt a friend made up that said: "Boring."

Then Pastrana got in a car and found it to be anything but.

"Everybody says, 'Did you get bored out there?' " he recalled. "I'm like, 'Bored? I'm running a heart rate of 160 just sitting in a … seat."

And now Pastrana is driving for an owner that on the surface -- to those that don't really know him -- might be considered boring.

"You know what's really odd," said Pastrana, going back to his first conversation with Roush. "We hit it off really well and kind of understood each other. I don't know if that's good for either of us."

But it's great for the sport.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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