By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Travis Pastrana is a motor sports icon decorated for his fearless attack on anything with wheels or engines or ramps or danger.
But there is one thing missing from his resume, and as far as Pastrana is concerned, no event is bigger.
Pastrana said Tuesday he’ll make his long-coveted attempt to race the Daytona 500 this year in an entry fielded by 23XI Racing and sponsored by Black Rifle Coffee. The No. 67 Toyota will be a third entry for the NASCAR team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, and gives action-star Pastrana the chance to fulfill his career dream.
“As my career gets further to the end, I just really, really, really want to be able to line up one day at the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race in the world as far as my family is concerned,” Pastrana told The Associated Press.
“My grandma watched the Daytona 500. It was our one really big family/friend event that everybody pretty much in our county would go and watch. It was a holiday for us,” Pastrana said. “It has a big place in my heart, a lot of great memories, and I always said, ‘Man, one day I’d love to go racing in the Daytona 500.”
Pastrana, mind you, is a decorated X Games star and has won championships in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, rally racing and, most recently, offshore powerboat racing. But as he begins to wind down his career — the father of two turns 40 this year — Pastrana couldn’t let go of his desire to race the Daytona 500.
He made a brief run at NASCAR a decade ago and raced the full Xfinity Series schedule in 2013 for Roush Fenway Racing. Pastrana struggled far more than he expected — “I didn’t pick up on the rear-wheel drive on pavement as quick as I needed to,” he told the AP — and sponsorship was a challenge, so his NASCAR career came to a halt.
Pastrana had shown, though, that he can handle fast cars. He finished 10th that year in the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway and won the pole at Talladega Superspeedway. He will need to be fast next month at Daytona, where Pastrana will have to qualify his way into “The Great American Race.”
There are only four open spots in the 40-car field and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, is vying for one of them. Another potential entrant is four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
Pastrana will be teammates with Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing newcomer Tyler Reddick, and he will be part of the larger Toyota group that includes team co-owner Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner. He is expecting a fast motor but knows the pressure will be intense just to make the race.
“Everything else that I do uses a lot of practice. But this is the first time I’ll ever (drive) a Cup car over 40 mph, the first time I’ll ever have a Cup car on the Daytona track, the first time I’ll ever be in front of the world with all the sponsors and everything trying to qualify — will be my qualifying lap,” Pastrana said. “2311 said: ‘We’re going to give you the absolute best that we can. We’re not playing favorites.’ And for me, looking those guys in the eye, I realized we’ve got a shot to go out there and not just qualify, but qualify well and put ourselves up in a position to potentially mix it up in there.
“I definitely can drive and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to put my best foot forward.”
Acknowledging that racing in the Daytona 500 was a “pay-to-play” venture in which he had to fund the package, Pastrana needed to partner with a team that gave him a shot to compete and not blow the money in a failed effort. He said he chose to take the Black Rifle sponsorship to 23XI because of an existing friendship with Kurt Busch and others inside the organization.
Pastrana, who broke his pelvis and back last year, insists he’s slowing down. But as he heads into the Daytona 500, he’ll be in an airplane or a car every day between his announcement Tuesday and arriving in Daytona. On his working list is representing the United States with Tanner Foust at the Race of Champions in Sweden later this month.
“I love what I do. I love driving. I love competition,” said Pastana, who also hailed the lifestyle. He met his wife through extreme sports and they raise their daughters at events around the world.
“We have so much access to trampolines and go-karts and bicycles and motorcycles, and I just feel like I can be the best father that I can be,” Pastrana said. “But I realized that it’s very difficult to stay on top and I’ve been very fortunate to have a long career. And it’s — I wouldn’t say it’s over or coming to an end — but definitely my priorities are changing.
“That’s why I’m doing the Daytona 500 this year. I felt like even though the door didn’t totally close 10 years ago, I feel like it’s close.”
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