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

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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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Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth to start at rear at Kentucky

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Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth each will start at the rear in Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway after their cars failed pre-race inspection twice.

Truex was to have started ninth. Kenseth was to have started 17th in the 38-car field.

Truex has won two of the last three races at Kentucky. Kenseth is coming off a runner-up finish last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky: Start time, lineup and more

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The final 10-race stretch of the regular season begins for the Cup Series Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

After years of mostly only racing under the lights there, the series will race in the daytime.

Can Kyle Busch, who starts from the pole, earn his first Cup win of 2020?

Here’s all the info you need for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines is at 2:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:54 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:35 p.m by Darrell and Stevie Waltrip. The national anthem will be performed at 2:36 p.m. by Robert Randolph.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 79 degrees and a 58% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Matt Kenseth to win the Brickyard 400.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Kurt Busch defeated younger brother Kyle Busch for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Front Row Motorsports reaching new heights without practice

NASCAR to team: Address “complacency” toward COVID-19 protocols

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’m smarter, stronger’ after COVID-19 episode

Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

Glow in the dark: Cup cars get new look for All-Star Race

Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

NASCAR reveals schedule through end of Cup regular season

Harvick takes hot streak to Kentucky, one of his last winless tracks

Power Rankings after Indianapolis: Kevin Harvick back to No. 1

Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s injured tire changer, to miss Kentucky

 

Racing community mourns driver killed after crash at Langley Speedway

Photo: Mark Wertz
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Shawn Balluzzo, an 11-time track champion at Langley Speedway, died after a crash in a modified race Saturday night, the track confirmed. Balluzzo was 64.

Balluzzo, who won 16 of the Hampton, Virginia track’s 17 modified races in 2019, died after his car went over the hood of another and hit the Turn 2 wall at about 70 mph, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The newspaper reported that safety personnel cut the roof of Balluzzo’s car off to extricate him.

Saturday’s twin modified races were the first of the season for that series at the track. Belluzzo finished second in the opening race.

Balluzzo and his daughter Bryce were featured last year by WAVY TV 10, which chronicled Bryce’s battle with leukemia.

 

Tributes to Shawn Balluzzo were abundant Sunday morning and came from throughout the racing community.

 

Cole Custer ready for encore of first career Cup top-5 finish

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Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway will be a night and day difference.

In recent years, the Cup race at the 1.5-mile Sparta, Kentucky track has primarily been a nighttime affair. Teams have compiled big notebooks of data from racing under the lights.

That won’t be the case Sunday, as the green flag is slated to drop at 2:54 p.m. ET.

While this will be his first career Cup start at Kentucky, rookie Cole Custer is no stranger to the track, having won last summer’s Xfinity race there – and scored consecutive fifth-place finishes in the two preceding races in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s something that you definitely see a difference in the track, I feel like, when it’s day and when it goes to night,” Custer said in a media teleconference. “So trying to figure out how you want to adjust your car to kind of a slicker track is gonna be pretty important.

“And also the biggest difference is we don’t have all the practice sessions before the race to work in the track. You saw that Thursday night with the Xfinity race, there was dust all over. The bottom lane was not worked in very well, so it’s gonna take a little while for that bottom lane to work in. We’re gonna see how worked in it is by the time we get to our race.

“There’s a lot of differences, honestly, but, at the same time it’s still the same track. It’s a really edgy racetrack because it’s new pavement, it’s a repave, so the tires are a little bit harder. The track takes a little bit of time to get worked in and you have that PJ1 (traction compound), so you’re able to take things from the Xfinity car – what lines kind of worked there and how it changed throughout the weekend – so basic characteristics with the track you’re able to kind of carry over. But at the same time, the feel in the car is completely different and how you work traffic and things like that.”

Custer enters Sunday’s race ranked 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest position of the four major drivers in this year’s Cup rookie class (Tyler Reddick is 18th, John Hunter Nemechek is 22nd and Christopher Bell is 24th).

“There’s definitely been a lot of learning, for sure,” Custer said. “Obviously, these cars are a lot different than what the Xfinity cars were, so trying to wrap your head around that and figure out how to effect every little thing, whether it’s passing or restarts or how to work traffic or pit road, just anything about it, you’re trying to make sure you’re getting 100 percent out of it.

“It’s always going to be challenging being a rookie, but at the same time it’s probably been a little bit more challenging this year because you don’t have practice, we didn’t have rookie testing, and these cars are a big difference from the Xfinity Series. It’s hard to do that without the practice time.

“I think it pushes all of us to be better because we all want to compete against each other and make sure we’re not falling behind too much. I think it’s just a matter of you still have to focus on yourself most of the time. If you’re focused on other people, you’re not gonna be making yourself better and working on your own problems. But at the same time it does push you to make sure you’re pushing yourself as much as you can.”

Custer is coming off his first top-five finish of the season at Indianapolis last weekend. He  has just one other top 10 in the first 16 races.

Still, Custer’s finish at Indy, which included pushing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to the win, leaves Custer optimistic heading into this weekend.

“At that point, my best shot was to push Kevin and that might have got me in a better position to try and maybe make a move to try to win the race also,” Custer said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking. I mean, you’re coming to that line and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to do this right. This is important right here. We need this.’

“So I’ve been in those situations before where you’ve got to push people if you’re running up front in the Xfinity cars or the Truck Series or whatever it is, so you have experience doing that kind of stuff, but doing it at this level puts that much more pressure on it and you’re at the Brickyard 400 so you want to make it happen. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was something that we were able to kind of control those nerves and make sure that we do our jobs right.

“Now I feel like we’re at a good point where we’re putting it all together and get close to affect all those little things. But you have to do it on a consistent basis and I think we’re gaining on that.”

The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang has his work cut out for himself Sunday, starting 29th.

“I feel like I’ve already spent hours trying to figure that out,” Custer quipped. “It’s definitely gonna be a tough race.

“It looks like it’s gonna be a really dominant top lane kind of race, so that makes it a little bit tough to pass. But at the same time, the track is gonna be changing throughout the whole weekend, so it’s hard to tell exactly what our race is gonna be like yet.

“You’re trying to work through all the different possibilities in your mind of what our race might look like. But overall I feel like it’s gonna be a track position race. You’re gonna want to try to get towards the front on restarts and on pit road, and from there you’re just trying to run a solid race without having mistakes.”

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