Travis Pastrana has had the NASCAR spotlight on him for quite some time, even though he has yet to make his first start in a national touring series race.
Pastrana, a worldwide action sports icon, is expected to make his Nationwide Series debut on April 27 at Richmond International Raceway. The 28-year-old driver will be behind the wheel of the No. 99 Toyota for RAB Racing. Michael Waltrip Racing and RAB Racing have formed an alliance in the series, which will give Pastrana a guaranteed starting position for Richmond since the team is in the top-30 in owner points.
Seventeen months ago, Pastrana announced his intentions to compete in seven Nationwide races during the 2011 season and then 20 events in the series this year. He also partnered with driver/owner Michael Waltrip, as well as team co- owners Gary and Blake Bechtel, to create Pastrana-Waltrip Racing.
Pastrana is an 11-time X-Games gold medalist and has claimed championships in supercross, motocross and rally racing.
After running in several NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West events and working with driver coach Matt Crafton, who is a Camping World Truck Series veteran, Pastrana was set to make his Nationwide debut last July at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
But days before Indianapolis, Pastrana suffered a broken right ankle and foot during an accident while competing in the X Games in Los Angeles. His debut in NASCAR's second-tier series was put off until this year. His injury required surgery and months of rehabilitation.
Now he's ready to go.
"All I want to do is drive my car and be in the car," Pastrana said during a teleconference on Tuesday. "We've gone across a lot of media, and frankly, I'm tired of talking about it. I know the media is tired of talking about it. And all the drivers are like, geez, are you getting out here or not?
"That ankle [injury] was horrible, but I'm finally getting started. I won't know a lot of answers until I'm getting in the cars, so I'm looking forward to this race."
Pastrana has already competed in two K&N Series races this season. He finished 12th in the March 17 season-opener at Bristol Motor Speedway and then 20th in the March 31 race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, SC. His next start in that series is at Richmond, one day before the Nationwide event there.
Pastrana might be back on track but not fully recovered from his injuries yet.
"I'm in physical therapy," he said. "I've been good since New Year's, which is excellent. Is it a hundred percent? Absolutely not. My walking is horrible. But hundred percent in the car, for sure. I probably would have done a little different on physical therapy had I been coming back for motocross.
"But just last week I started being able to go up my tail and do tail raises. So I'm still months away from being able to ride a dirt bike, which is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. It makes it easy to be focused."
Pastrana is once again the center of attention in NASCAR. Last Saturday, he served as grand marshal for the 500-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
"In Texas, all I wanted to do was get in one of those cars, which is really funny, because when [Clint Bowyer] was going by me and when I was shaking hands or whatever and walking across the stage, he was like, yeah, what do you think? You want to jump in the car? And I was like don't tempt me, man. I would in a heartbeat," Pastrana recalled.
After Richmond, Pastrana is tentatively scheduled for six more Nationwide races. He will compete at Darlington (May 11), Charlotte (May 26), New Hampshire (July 14), Chicagoland (July 22), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 28) and Atlanta (September 1). Mike Greci will serve as his crew chief. Greci has also guided Pastrana's efforts in K&N.
"I've got great people behind me, the whole MWR crew and the RAB crew," Pastrana said. "I've been with the crew chief since I started in NASCAR, and I feel really confident with the people I have around me. Even my cousin is on the pit crew, and it's just a familiar face to talk to before you get in the car."