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NASCAR's 2011 season is off to an excellent start both on the track and on television. A Cinderella story at the Daytona 500 in the form of Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon, an established draw, winning in Phoenix probably has something to do with that, and with NASCAR's very good TV ratings so far.
From FOX Sports VP of communications Dan Bell on Twitter:
NASCAR on FOX dominates all other sports competition on broadcast or cable tv this weekend with a 5.3 overnight rating, +6% from last year.
That rating for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was no doubt helped by a lack of competition on other networks on Sunday. NBC had two relative unknowns in the Accenture Match Play; CBS was broadcasting a blowout between Ohio State and Indiana; there was only one ABC Sunday basketball game, the Lakers' close win over the Thunder, and it ended before the Sprint Cup Series race was winding down.
Still, NASCAR and FOX have to be happy with that big number.
How does a NASCAR driver celebrate after breaking a 66-race winless streak? If you're Jeff Gordon, you head to Hollywood to join in some Oscar parties following tonight's Academy Awards ceremony.
"We're on our way to L.A. tonight," Gordon said after his win. "There are some post-Oscar parties, so we get to celebrate with some neat people."
Gordon, who has a small part in the upcoming Pixar movie Cars 2, said he texted Pixar's John Lasseter – a friend of Gordon's – last week and predicted both men would have something to celebrate when Gordon arrived in Southern California.
"I said, 'I'm going to come celebrate a Phoenix win and your Oscar together,'" Gordon recalled. "So I can't wait to connect with him tonight. He's a huge NASCAR fan, and he's going to be so excited about this win. That's going to be a fun night tonight."
Gordon did have one regret, though: He wished the Phoenix trophy was small enough to bring to the parties.
"I've been to the parties before," he said, "and the Oscar winners carry their trophies around."
Don't hold it against Gordon if he just wanted to join in the fun.
Kyle Busch handled his Phoenix defeat gracefully on Sunday, even after Jeff Gordon used some rubbing to make the winning pass and deny Busch a three-race weekend sweep.
"I think he was on a mission today, and when Jeff Gordon has a good car and he has the opportunity to beat you, he's going to beat you," Busch said. "There's no doubt about that. He's my hero and I've always watched him and what he's been able to accomplish over the years. It's no surprise that he beat us."
If you don't think that sounds like typical Busch, join the club. But the driver known as "Rowdy" offered plenty of praise for Gordon while good-naturedly noting he barely missed out on repeating the history he achieved at Bristol last summer.
"There's always that one car that's got to ruin the whole weekend," Busch said with a smile, "and it had to be the 24 car."
Perhaps it's because Gordon had a faster car than Busch and would have passed him anyway – even without the nudge that allowed the No. 24 car to take the lead.
"He was gaining on me really good, and I knew he was going to get to me eventually," Busch said. "...He just drifted up a little bit into me and knocked me out of the way.
"But it don't matter. He had a fast enough car. Either way, he (would) have won ... It has nothing to do with how he won."
Busch had bigger problems to worry about than starting a rivalry with Gordon, anyway. He angered Carl Edwards early in the race by trying to a take a spot that didn't belong to him, which triggered a multi-car wreck and damaged Edwards' car.
Though Busch apologized profusely throughout the race, Edwards didn't seem to care. He kept "playing" with Busch by holding him up several times for the rest of the day.
"He was mad, for sure; he was frustrated, definitely," Busch said. "You can see that entirely out there the whole rest of the race. Anytime I got within five car lengths of his rear bumper, he would start checking up early, getting into the corners and slowing down and getting more space between me and the other guys.
"Finally, after about 20 laps of that, he let me go. It was weird. He just he was playing."
Busch said he hoped to speak with Edwards and move beyond the incident, especially given how the two raced one another cleanly in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
"I made a mistake today – I've admitted that, again and again," Busch said. "Hopefully we can get past this and go on. ... It was just a mistake on my part."
Jeff Gordon moved up a whopping 21 positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings following Sunday's victory at Phoenix International Raceway, shooting up all the way to fifth.
Gordon was among several double-digit gainers, which also included Ryan Newman (from 20th to eighth), Jimmie Johnson (25th to 13th) and Kevin Harvick (37th to 22nd).
But Phoenix wasn't good for all the drivers. Regan Smith plummeted 13 spots to 19th in the standings, David Ragan fell 12 spots (to 25th) and former points leader Carl Edwards slipped 11 positions to 12th.
Here are the complete point standings:
Jeff Gordon held off Kyle Busch to win Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, snapping a 66-race winless streak dating back to April 2009.
The victory was Gordon's 83rd all time, which tied Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time NASCAR wins list. After his win, Gordon moved up a whopping 21 spots to fifth in the point standings.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Las Vegas. Below are the complete results from Sunday's race:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was all smiles after stepping from his car, accepting congratulations from team members, his crew chief and even Richard Petty.
He approached a small group of reporters waiting to hear his thoughts on finishing 10th at Phoenix – his first top-10 at the 1-mile desert track since 2008.
"That's more like it," he said quietly, with a smile.
Earnhardt Jr. immediately cautioned that his revamped No. 88 team "still has got a little ways to go." But he was clearly pleased with the performance.
"We had a pretty good car!" he said cheerfully.
The top-10 finish was only Earnhardt Jr.'s third in the last 20 races, a maddening streak which has only added to his winless woes of the last couple years. As he struggled through the second half of last season and fell out of a Chase spot, Earnhardt Jr. only grew more frustrated.
But he and new crew chief Steve Letarte seem to have found a connection so far this year, and Phoenix showed the team could be headed in the right direction.
"We need to keep doing this," he said. "We need to do this a little bit better. We need to keep this up. I haven't run good here in a long time – I really haven't."
It was a solid day for Earnhardt Jr. all around. For some reason, he got some lucky breaks in situations where he wouldn't have been so fortunate last year.
He found his way through the early "big one" despite starting 35th ("Just luck," he said) and was able to overcome a loose wheel that caused him to pit under the green flag.
When a reporter observed the loose wheel would have ruined Earnhardt Jr.'s day last year, the driver nodded.
"Oh, I know," he said.
The team also had a wheel break on its jack during one part of the race. Asked why his equipment seems to fail him at times, Earnhardt Jr. smirked.
"We're just under a lot of pressure, man," Earnhardt Jr. said. "And even the parts feel it, I guess."
It's only the second race of the season, but Earnhardt Jr. is 17th in points (up five spots from Daytona) and feeling positive about his team's direction.
"He drove a great race, and he never gave up," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "To pit under green here with less than 100 laps to go, and come back for a 10th-place finish, you've had a good day."
Another reporter pointed out that Earnhardt Jr.'s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, snapped a long winless streak on Sunday – and asked how close NASCAR's most popular driver was to doing the same thing.
"We were nine spots behind him," he said, "so that's about how close we are."
The Rainbow Warrior is in Victory Lane again: Jeff Gordon's a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner for the first time since April 2009, winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500 in Phoenix.
Gordon led the most laps on the day, but had to come from behind to get the win. Kyle Busch spent a fair bit of time in front at the end, but when the 24 nudged his 18 car late, Gordon took the lead and would not relinquish it. Busch finished second, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Newman.
The win is the 83rd of Gordon's career, which leads active drivers and ties him with Cale Yarborough on the all-time list.
The race was marred by wrecks early: Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, polesitter Carl Edwards, and about 10 other drivers were collected in crashes.
We'll have the full results from the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix International Raceway in this StoiryStream when they become available.
Based on your feedback from Daytona Speedweeks, we're returning to the "traditional" chat format for this week's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
So if you're a regular chatter, welcome back. We're excited to see you all again and continue to have fun and talk about the races as they're taking place.
If you're new, welcome! You can chat by using the comments section below – and checking the "auto-refresh" box to see the latest comments as they happen.
We'll talk about the race itself, as well as the TV broadcast, the drivers and any other topics you wish to address.
First off, tell us your pick for today. SB Nation's pick is Carl Edwards, based on his recent momentum and Phoenix performance both last year (he won in November) and this weekend (he'll start from the pole).
Which drivers will show their stuff in the first "real" race of the year? Which drivers will struggle and lose ground in the Chase race early in the season?
We'll all find out together. Happy chatting!
Race winner Kyle Busch stopped his car on the start/finish line, climbed out and looked ready to do his traditional post-victory bow. But instead, he pointed to pit road.
There, runner-up Carl Edwards interrupted an interview to wave back. And really, that was all Edwards could do.
Busch became the first driver since 2003 to lead a Nationwide race from wire-to-wire, pacing all 200 laps in Saturday afternoon's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.
In doing so, Busch made it 2-for-2 at Phoenix so far this weekend, setting the stage for perhaps another weekend sweep – which only he has achieved in NASCAR history.
The victory was Busch's 88th win across all three series, which leaves him in fourth place on the all-time list. And he's still only 25 years old.
Busch dominated the entire event – as evidenced by leading every lap – but Edwards gave him an incredible challenge with about 20 laps to go.
Busch's No. 18 car had started to get loose in Turns 3 and 4, which allowed Edwards to gain ground. Several times, Edwards was even inside Busch and looked ready to make a pass – but he couldn't quite complete the move.
Eventually, after about a half-dozen laps of intense battle, Edwards fell back and Busch went on to victory.
Since Edwards and Busch have had their on-track differences before, why didn't Edwards use his bumper on the 18 car?
"You've got to do the best you can to go out and race everyone with the most respect you can," Edwards said. "Today, Kyle's car was the best, and it's fun to be able to race like that.
"It's frustrating to lose them, but it's better to lose them that way than it is to win by running into somebody."
Edwards also mentioned "this is a new year," which Busch said was likely a major reason Edwards didn't do anything.
"It's early in the year, that's why," Busch said. "If it was the fall Phoenix race, I'd be backed in (the fence) right now. ... You never know with him. He can surprise you sometimes."
Kevin Harvick was third, Ryan Newman was fourth and Reed Sorenson was fifth. Danica Patrick finished 17th, three laps down.
Sorenson is the points leader, by five points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Subway-sponsored driver Carl Edwards won the pole for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500 race at Phoenix International Raceway, snatching the top spot from Kasey Kahne late in Saturday's qualifying session.
Kurt Busch was second and Kahne ended up third under NASCAR's new qualifying format, which puts the fastest cars from practice at the end of the session – allowing the pole to change hands many times.
Kyle Busch was fourth and Regan Smith was fifth, with Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle completing the top 10.
Brian Keselowski, the Cinderella story at Daytona, missed the race and was sent home. Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne qualified 33rd.
The complete starting lineup for Phoenix:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked from his garage stall and disappeared into his hauler following a disappointing qualifying lap Saturday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway – and didn't emerge for an hour.
Inside the lounge area of the No. 88 team's transporter, Earnhardt Jr. spend time discussing potential changes to his car with crew chief Steve Letarte.
Qualifying 35th for Sunday's race will warrant that kind of long conversation, of course. But in the past, Earnhardt Jr. may have said a few words to his crew chief and returned to his motorhome, communicating about changes via text message.
Not this year – at least so far. Earnhardt Jr. said he wants to be involved in the discussions on a personal level.
"Especially when we don't do well or have a day like today when I didn't perform, I want to be here in case Steve needs to get some information from me," Earnhardt Jr. said. "And he can get it from me face-to-face instead of a text message."
It's interesting to note, though, that Earnhardt Jr. does not view his involvement in the conversations as a sign of being more focused; nor does he think it's entirely necessary for success.
"I can do a million different things outside the car and be plugged in every hour of the day, but it really just comes down to whether I can get in there and get the job done," he said. "Today, I didn't get the job done. The car was definitely better than (the lap time showed)."
Basically, the lengthy debrief was a product of wanting to be accountable to his crew chief and his team – even it it's symbolic more than anything.
It's too early to draw any conclusions about how the new No. 88 team will fare together, but Earnhardt Jr. seems to enjoy soaking up Letarte's positive energy. He emerged from the meeting not seeming defeated or discouraged, but focused on improving for Sunday's race.
Can they keep it up?
"We'll just have to see," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Hopefully we can maintain our work ethic and our (desire) to work together every day – want to be together, talk together, work through the car in the same room.
"That's a good thing right now and it's a great feeling. It's productive and we need to keep it that way all year."
But last week, the year got off to a bad start.
Earnhardt Jr. said his wreck and disappointing 24th-place finish in the Daytona 500 capped off a Speedweeks which he called "hellacious" and "a headache."
"I'm really disappointed about the points we lost, the opportunity we had to have a good points day, the opportunity we had to win the race," he said. "We had a good shot at a good finish and a chance to race for the win. But the points are probably the thing that'll end up bothering me the most over the long haul of the season."
He didn't see any of Trevor Bayne's post-500 media blitz, he said, because he was "too busy doing nothing." He didn't envy Bayne – at least when it came to having a week of media obligations all over the country.
"If I had won that Daytona 500, I'd have disappeared on Monday afternoon," he joked. "They'd have never saw me again."
Earnhardt Jr. said he thought NASCAR put on a good, exciting race at Daytona, even with the two-car drafts. But he said the sport was capable of "providing a better product" and added officials and teams should work to put on a "better race overall."
During Friday's practice sessions, there was speculation several drivers "sandbagged" by intentionally recording slow practice speeds.
Since the qualifying order is now set in the opposite order of practice speeds – slowest to fastest – sandbagging could potentially have an impact on the competition.
But the whole thing was a bit confusing. On a day forecasted to be cloudy and cool, why would a driver prefer to go earlier in a qualifying session than later?
Don't ask Kyle Busch. He doesn't know, either.
"I don't know why you would (sandbag)," he said. "What time is qualifying? 12:40? The track temp will not change more than five or 10 degrees between the start and the end of qualifying. So it means nothing."
Busch said anyone trying to slow down their speeds in the final practice must not have "read the rules correctly."
"They would understand that's the wrong thing to do" if they did, he said.
The reason is that NASCAR doesn't make the qualifying order off the second practice; it makes the order based on a driver's fastest lap from the two practices combined.
So if a driver had a fast lap in the first practice, it wouldn't matter if they sandbagged in the second practice.
"(Brother) Kurt was a little faster in the first practice than my time in the second practice, so we go out last of the cars that are in the show," Busch said. "So we're the last of the guys who are locked into the show to go out – it's more beneficial to us."
Sandbagging could come into play at a place like Indianapolis, Busch said, where qualifying is early in the morning. In that case, it would be beneficial to a driver to go out early in qualifying while the track is cool.
In practice at Indy, Busch said, "you would actually have somebody stand at the beginning of the pit wall with a stopwatch and clock you from there, then shut the motor off before you get to the start/finish line so you (slow) down your time."
"We're all smart," he added. "We all know this show runs."
NASCAR's Kerry Tharp, who was moderating the press conference, quickly interjected and said the Indy qualifying time "will be adjusted."
But at Phoenix, Busch said he just couldn't see the point.
"Everybody who thought they were sandbagging for some big ol' shindig reason, they'll be unimpressed," he said.
Drivers were able to communicate with non-teammates for the first time during the Daytona 500, which added an intriguing element to NASCAR's biggest race.
Because there was a need for two-car tandems to work together while the race was going on, many drivers set their radios up so they could speak with their competitors.
But some drivers believe the practice should be banned.
"I think NASCAR should step in on drivers getting on other teams' radios," Kurt Busch said. "... We shouldn't be able to communicate with radios."
Busch said drivers should all stay on their own channel and leave it to their crew chiefs and spotters to communicate during the races. He listed possible radio interference as one reason he's against the practice.
"Let's just say a driver wrecks and throws his steering wheel on the dash and (accidentally) keys up the mic – and he was just on your channel," Busch said. "Well, now you're messed up because you've just got the squelching (sound) on that channel."
Busch said he stayed on his own channel throughout the Daytona 500, though other drivers switched over to his radio frequency to chat with him.
"If they wanted to come to us, they could come to us," he said.
Mark Martin had only four drivers among his options for chatting: His three teammates and AJ Allmendinger. But the veteran agreed with Busch, saying he hopes his competitors "clean the radios up."
"I don't think that's necessary going forward," Martin said. "I'm not sure it would be a good thing to be able to talk to a competitor of mine. I would be better off keeping that to myself or sharing it with my spotter and my crew chief."
Paul Menard said he had 12 different drivers on his radio during the Daytona 500 – and was just fine with continuing the practice for future restrictor-plate races if NASCAR doesn't pass a rule against it.
"You're on one channel with two drivers and basically one spotter spotting for you," he said. "You just have to be quick. If you guys get split up or something you just have to flip back to your channel and then try to figure out where you need to go next."
Carl Edwards backed the open radio communication between drivers based on safety reasons, calling it "necessary."
"I thought it was necessary for the guys in front to be able to say, ‘Wrecking, wrecking. Stop,'" Edwards said. "That's a lot quicker than telling a spotter or a spotter seeing it and telling the guy behind.
"I don't think we need that in the cars at every track, but it did help. It was good that everyone worked together and we were able to kind of do that because you just can't see anything."
Tony Stewart and Mark Martin lined up on the outside for the final restart of the Daytona 500, both drivers just two laps away from an elusive victory in NASCAR's biggest race.
But when the green flag flew, Stewart and Martin dropped anchor and fell back through the field. Stewart finished 13th; Martin was eighth.
It was a disappointing result for both, especially for Martin – who had returned to the lead lap after being three laps down. Both drivers will return to Daytona in 2012 still in search of their first win in the 500.
For some reason, the Stewart/Martin two-car tandem just couldn't get going. What the heck happened?
"We just never got the bumpers locked together; we kept bouncing off each other," Stewart said Friday. "Then a couple guys got a run through the center there, and it just pulled him off of us even more. We got separated so badly that we never did get hooked back up together."
Martin said the two simply "broke apart." He kept trying to push Stewart, but he couldn't get attached and would bump Stewart's car forward when he tried to connect them.
"For reasons that we can't determine right now, those things break apart when other cars are around, and we broke apart and Tony didn't immediately know it," he said. "So by the time he realized it, we were far enough apart that it was too late now. Our chance was over."
Martin's big comeback from being so many laps down had left him feeling like the Daytona 500 was shaping up to be something special for the veteran, but it just didn't work out that way.
"I thought we had an excellent, excellent shot at it, but as it turned out, we didn't get the run that we hoped we would," he said. "The wind from the other cars broke us apart."
During the Daytona 500, drivers were able to speak with other drivers aside from their teammates via radio communication for perhaps the first time ever.
And for AJ Allmendinger, it all got a little confusing.
"It was funny, because multiple times, I had some voice come over my radio and ask me to work with him," Allmendinger said. "I'm like, 'Who the hell are you? Who's talking to me?"
"Oh, this is David Ragan," came one response.
"Oh, OK," Allmendinger replied.
Under the next caution, another driver called Allmendinger on the radio.
"I'd be like, 'Who in the hell is this?'" Allmendinger said.
"Oh, it's Carl. Do you want to work together?" the voice replied.
"I'm like, 'How to you keep getting my radio channel? Leave me alone!'" Allmendinger said with a laugh. "I mean, it was strange."
Allmendinger clearly worked well with others, though – he finished 11th in the Daytona 500.
It took only one lap of practice for Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 momentum to wear off.
Bayne crashed on the first lap of practice at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday afternoon, hitting the wall hard following what he said was a brake failure on his No. 21 car.
"On pit road, I told them the brakes felt like they weren't working right," he said. "I paced myself getting into the corner and the brakes just never worked. Even down the backstretch, I was playing with them, trying to get them dialed in, but I got off into the corner and they just never worked, never slowed down."
Bayne said by the time he figured out the brakes weren't working at all, it was too late.
"When I went into the corner, as soon as I let off the gas I knew it was crashing, because I just wasn't going to slow down," he said. "And it happened. Not much I could do there. ... I don't know why the brakes weren't right there."
The team has already pulled out its backup car. His crash-shortened 98.047 mph lap has put him last on the speed charts for the first practice.
Back at the track for the first time since his Daytona 500 victory, Trevor Bayne showed no signs of exhaustion following his whirlwind, cross-country media tour. Instead, he gave an energetic, upbeat interview with NASCAR reporters on Friday morning.
Bayne, the youngest winner in Daytona 500 history, happily recounted his busy week in a 20-minute interview session – smiling throughout.
Asked about the craziest part of his week, Bayne recalled a sequence of events two days ago that left his head spinning.
While waiting to go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bayne's phone rang. On the other end was Vice President Joe Biden, who told him he was proud of Bayne and recalled watching the Wood Brothers back in the day.
Immediately following the call, Bayne went on Ellen. Then he fielded a call from Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who chatted with Bayne about their shared Christian faith.
Then former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson popped in the room to say hello ("You remind me of my son!" she told him) and before Bayne knew it, he was appearing on the TBS comedy show Lopez Tonight.
Backstage at Lopez, Bayne met singer Bobby V. – who asked for the driver's phone number in case he ever wanted to come to a race.
"I'm like, 'What is going on?'" Bayne said with a laugh. "This is kind of a big deal!"
How Bayne ended up talking to Biden on the phone is a funny story in itself. After the Daytona 500, he received a phone call that came up on his screen as "Private Number."
Since he didn't know who it was, he ignored it.
The phone rang again with the same "Private Number," so this time Bayne answered it. It was the White House saying the President would be calling him in the next few days (though apparently Biden called instead).
A radio station in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. caught wind he was expecting a call from President Obama, and prank-called Bayne pretending to be the Commander-in-Chief.
"I'm sleeping, and I answer it and I'm like, 'Hello...?'" Bayne said, imitating a sleepy voice.
"Hello Trevor, this is President Obama," the prank-calling radio DJ said.
"Oh, hey! What's going on?" Bayne replied, suddenly perky.
The DJ quickly told Bayne it was just a prank.
Bayne had some other eye-opening experiences, like receiving the first police escort of his life upon his arrival in San Francisco.
"We had two black trucks, the cops are going everywhere, we get out on the red carpet and people are holding 'Will you marry me?' signs," he said. "I'm like, what is going on here?"
Though Bayne met celebrities and appeared on national television on numerous occasions, he said he was never nervous through the whole media tour.
"I was actually more nervous for this kind of stuff (talking with the NASCAR media), because you all know what I'm saying!" Bayne said. "I can say anything on those shows, and they'd be like, 'Oh, great!' It was kind of fun, because they don't know much about racing. So I can just kind of take it wherever and just talk. That was cool."
One thing Bayne knows for sure: Since his face is suddenly all over the place, his love life is about to pick up.
"I didn't have a Valentine this year," he said, "but I don't think that'll happen next year."
Travis Pastrana had just finished a disappointing 25th after crashing at the end of his first NASCAR points-paying race, and said he wasn't particularly happy with the result.
But when a group of fans yelled, "HEY TRAVIS! WOOO!" from the stands, he turned around and waved at them from pit road.
"I'll be up there in a couple minutes!" he called out pleasantly.
Sure enough, just as he had done after the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January, he finished his media interviews and hopped the pit road retaining wall, walked across the track and went up the steps into the stands.
A group of 20 or so fans quickly gathered at the opening in the fence under the flag stand, and Pastrana greeted them by saying, "Hey, what's up guys?"
For the next 15 minutes or so, he posed for pictures, signed autographs and answered questions about his race. He gave an unsolicited hug to one woman who said she was a big fan, and offered his trademark thumbs-up in every picture.
After the requests for autographs and photos dwindled, he pointed his green Sharpie at the group as if to say, "You good?" and looked around to double-check he had greeted everyone who came to see him.
When there were no more takers, he told the fans, "Thanks everyone for coming out today," shook a few hands and walked back across the track.
Above: Travis Pastrana went into the stands to greet fans after the K&N West Series race at Phoenix (Photo / Jeff Gluck, SB Nation)
Travis Pastrana spun and wrecked his car with three laps remaining, ending what was otherwise a promising day for the action sports star in his first NASCAR points race – a K&N West Series race at Phoenix.
Pastrana, who is trying NASCAR for the first time this season, had kept his nose clean for most of the day and seemed poised for a top-10 finish until another car got loose underneath him and spun late in the race. Then, trying to be aggressive at the end, Pastrana overdrove the car and wrecked on his own, finishing 25th.
It was his second NASCAR event, but his first points-paying race. He also raced in January's Toyota All-Star Showdown.
Pastrana said the Phoenix result "kinda sucks," but said he "definitely learned a lot in both races."
"When we got sixth at Irwindale (in the All-Star Showdown), I felt like we were a 15th-place driver," he said. "Here, getting 25th, I felt like we were a sixth-place driver."
Pastrana noted during the race he was giving up too many positions on the restarts, which was a result of him being a "sally" (his term for a wuss).
The team then joked about him being a "sally" for the remainder of the race.
"That's going to haunt me," he said with a chuckle. "It's a fine line. Every time I thought I had more speed than the guy in front of me, I got passed. Really, I think it's just about being aggressive, but knowing when you can back off a little bit."
Thursday's race was just another small step in what Pastrana knows will be a long road to respectability in NASCAR. The ultimate goal, he said, is to make it to one of the top series like Nationwide or Sprint Cup and hear "people say that I can drive."
"He's not just motocross, he can come over here and not be a nuisance on the track," Pastrana said he hopes people will someday say of him. "I think every driver out here thinks he can be the best, and that's why we're all here. And I just really want to go to the most competitive sport in the world – where all the top drivers in the U.S. go. I want to put myself against them and see how I fare."
To get there, Pastrana says he's dedicated to NASCAR – at least as dedicated as he can be at the moment. This year, he's juggling NASCAR with his existing sponsor commitments in other forms of racing.
At 6 a.m. Friday, for example, he'll be driving his rally car in Missouri. Then he'll go to Australia the following week – after just returning from New Zealand a few days ago.
After this year, though, his schedule will free him up to focus entirely on NASCAR.
"This year is going to be difficult, but it is what I want to do," he said. "I will be at every opportunity to test, every opportunity to get into a car. I need to be here.
"People (might) say I'm not focused enough, but every night I dream about winning some races. I dream about NASCAR. And hopefully in the next two years, that is going to show through."
Pastrana said he's ready for the expectations – both good and bad. He knows some people will expect him to be competitive right away based on his reputation; he knows others will expect him to fail.
"After two or three races, people might go, 'Aw, this guy sucks!'" he said. "Or the opposite. They're like, 'Just because you did (motocross and rally cars), don't think you can just come in here with all this sponsorship or whatever and just be instantly good at this sport. You're going to fail and you're just going to be miserable.'"
Count race winner Greg Pursley among the group impressed by Pastrana on Thursday. He said for Pastrana's first time, "he actually surprised me."
"He's catching on pretty fast," Pursley said. "He'll do just fine. He's a smart guy – I look forward to seeing him do great things in this series."
After two weeks in Daytona, NASCAR heads west to Phoenix International Raceway for a tripleheader weekend. All three of NASCAR's national series will be in action, and some of the sport's new stars have a chance to be the focus.
Travis Pastrana will make his points racing debut in the K&N West Series race on Thursday night, and Trevor Bayne will conclude his post-Daytona 500 media tour by returning to the car on Friday morning – and pulling double-duty at the same time (he'll race in both Nationwide and Sprint Cup at Phoenix).
Will Denny Hamlin find redemption for his fuel mileage mishap last fall? Will Jimmie Johnson show he's as strong as ever?
Or will a surprise name rise up, as Bayne did last week at Daytona?
Here's a schedule to the weekend to help you plan:
***Weekend schedule at Phoenix International Raceway (all times EASTERN)***
11 a.m. – Camping World Truck Series final practice (1 hour, 50 minutes)
1 p.m. – Nationwide Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)
2:30 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 20 minutes)
4 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (55 minutes)
5:05 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series qualifying
6 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series final practice (1 hour, 25 minutes)
8 p.m. – Camping World Truck Series race (150 laps, 150 miles)
2:05 p.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
3:40 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
5:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 200 miles)
3 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (312 laps, 312 miles)
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