Travis Pastrana will need more than luck to make the Daytona 500
When we last left professional stuntman and rally racer Travis Pastrana—best known for Supercross wins, X-Games glory, and a TV special successfully duplicating Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jumps—the thrill-seeker was racing rallycross, despite a lengthy period spent in a prone position after jumping off a 46-story building with a parachute. The bad landing left Pastrana with a broken L5 vertebrae, multiple pelvic fractures, and a broken sacrum.
That was one year ago this month. He recovered quickly, and was back racing in no time. Since then, he has driven a 300 mph NHRA Top Fuel dragster (though he didn’t hit 300 mph), and now he wants to race in NASCAR’s biggest event, the Daytona 500.
That may be the 39-year-old Pastrana’s biggest long shot gamble yet. Though he’ll be attempting the race in a powerful Toyota 23XI entry, as a teammate to Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick (both, proven winners), there are only four slots available in the 40-car Daytona 500 field.
So, why is there a cap on The Great American Race? NASCAR’s 36 teams have one “charter” per car, worth maybe $6 million apiece, that guarantees them a starting position in every race, no matter how bad they qualify. The 23XI team, owned by racer Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan, has two charters reserved for Wallace and Reddick. Pastrana will have to race or qualify his way in, driving the Black Rifle Coffee no. 67.
Of the four open slots, two cars will enter the 500 based on how fast they qualify, and two will enter the big race based on how well they do in one of the two duel races held on the Thursday before the 500.
Here’s the problem: Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson wants one of those slots. And multiple other, more experienced oval-track racers will be vying for an open position alongside Pastrana, perhaps as many as seven drivers.
“I’m thrilled at the chance to race in the Daytona 500,” said Pastrana. “It’s the one event every year that all my friends and family come together to watch at our buddy Dale’s house and it’s an event I’ve wanted to race my entire life. My first Supercross win came at Daytona when I was 16 years old, and I qualified third at Daytona for the Xfinity series in 2013.”
“That race didn’t end up well, but I was able to finish 10th despite the fact I crossed the finish line backward through the infield grass at 180 mph. Trying to earn one of the very few remaining spots in qualifying for the biggest race I’ve ever had the opportunity to compete in will not be an easy task, but I’m confident the 23XI team will give me a car that belongs in the show and truly believe I have the skills to get it there.”
No one denies that, but does he have the luck? Of course, surviving a bad BASE jump off a Fort Lauderdale skyscraper would suggest that Pastrana has luck to burn.
NASCAR’s twin 150-mile duel races are February 16, and the Daytona 500 is February 19. We’ll be there to watch Travis Pastrana. Or not.