Travis Pastrana looks to ‘figure out’ NASCAR with Truck Series return

Travis Pastrana
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C — On a warm day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Travis Pastana received similar greetings from old friends and competitors.

“I’m glad you’re back in the game!” yelled one burly Red Horse Racing crew member over the constant roar of the Camping World Truck Series garage Tuesday afternoon.

A few hours later, the action sports star would climb back into a NASCAR vehicle for the first time in two years.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

At 33, Pastrana plans to compete in the Sept. 30 Truck race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the same track he made his last start at in 2015. He’ll be driving the No. 45 truck owned by Niece Motorsports that’s also been driven by T.J. Bell this season.

Pastrana was in Charlotte for a one-day test despite being a very busy man. He has his popular Nitro Cirus stunt tour and is competing full-time in world rally for the first time since 2010 and leads the points. He also has a family with two daughters to raise.

So why dip back into NASCAR? Why spend six hours in May testing for a race in September?

Four years after his lone full-time Xfinity campaign with Roush Fenway Racing, Pastrana has an itch. A question that he needs to find the answer to.

“I’ve been able to figure most racing things out and be competitive,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “Everyday at some point, I go ‘why couldn’t I figure out NASCAR? What do I need to do?’ I haven’t had the time to do it right.”

It helps that truck races are a viewing priority on TV for Pastrana’s 3-year-old daughter.

“She’ll watch an entire race,” Pastrana said. “Which is shocking because she doesn’t sit and watch anything. She’s always kind of bouncing off the walls. She likes the Trucks, especially Matt Crafton because she knows Matt a little and (Crafton’s daughter) Elladee is around her age. … We went down to Florida last year to see the finals and the truck race.”

Pastrana showed spurts of potential in 2013 in the Xfinity Series. Driving a colorful No. 60 Ford for Roush, he earned a pole at Talladega and qualified on the front row three times. In 33 starts, he collected four top 10s.

After a career filled with various action sports championships, Pastrana had viewed NASCAR as the next mountain to conquer.

“NASCAR’s been challenging because I’ve made a career and a living out of being able to take risks that no one else was willing to take,” Pastrana said. “I never cared about motorcycle set up. I just go out there and I ride. Your body is the setup. Even in rally, the course has so many different corners and different jumps, you’ll never have the perfect set up, so it comes down more to the driver.

“In NASCAR, it comes down to what you know about the truck. We’ve been working a lot, learning about the truck, learning about the cars. When I came into NASCAR, I didn’t know a lot about NASCAR. I thought it was a cool sport. Now, since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the sport, not to say I’m going to be great by any means, but I feel like I’ve got a much bigger appreciation and understanding for what it takes.”

Before his Xfinity tour, Pastrana had made a handful of K&N Pro Series starts. His competitors at the time included Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr.

Now those twenty-something drivers are rising stars in the Xfinity and Cup Series. Unlike Pastrana, they were raised on and have mastered this discipline their entire lives.

“I know I wouldn’t have made it (to Cup),” Pastrana admits. “With the time that I had, I know what it takes to get to the top of the sport. I was hoping that my other sports would translate better. They didn’t. Ok, that means we’re doing this seven days a week. Every minute of every day is thinking about NASCAR. Without a wife, kids, a business in Nitro Circus, that would have been an awesome challenge. But for me, at the point I was at in my life, I can race with my money and other people’s money, but I don’t have the time with my own equipment to do this. We’re doing the rally championship. It’s six rounds, so I can be 100 percent committed for those six rounds.”

Two weeks ago, the Annapolis, Maryland, native used a viral video made with his friends and family to announce his intentions to compete in the Las Vegas race.

Come Tuesday, Niece Motorsports’ small operation, along with some of Pastrana’s friends and former Roush crew members, scrambled around their garage stall to prepare the truck for what could be Pastrana’s only on-track action before September.

But as The Nitro Circus’ schedule slows down, there may the opportunity for another race, possibly at Chicagoland.

“We’re trying to drive as much as I can this year,” Pastrana said. “I’m doing the first full rally championship since 2010. For me, I’m doing a lot more pavement stuff, lots of go-kart stuff. Just trying to figure this stuff out a little bit, every chance that I can to come out.”

Optimism can’t produce horsepower, though. At the end of the marathon test, the combined effort of Pastrana and Bell and their rag-tag team could only muster a top speed of 174.396 mph, the slowest of the session by six mph.

But unlike the other 19 teams present at the test, Pastrana was the only driver there not taking part in their “day job.” He was just having fun, while studying up for the real test on Sept. 30.

“I’m not saying, ‘hey, I’m coming back in full-time,’ Pastrana said. “I’m racing one race, mostly to help my rally, but also to keep my foot in the door and say, ‘look, eventually I’d like to figure this stuff out because I haven’t figured it out and it bugs me.'”

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Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”