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Varied racing background a boon to Pastrana

Travis Pastrana and Trevor Bayne speak to reporters at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon; Tuesday, June 25, 2013. 
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

Travis Pastrana and Trevor Bayne speak to reporters at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon; Tuesday, June 25, 2013. ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

LOUDON – It doesn’t matter if the vehicle has two wheels or four, and it doesn’t matter what the track is like, Travis Pastrana will drive anything, anywhere.

He’s won motocross championships, 10 X Games gold medals in freestyle motocross, supercross, motocross and rally racing, a Rally America National Series championship, and last year he won the debut Global RallyCross race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. And Pastrana is back at NHMS this week to defend that GRC title at the SYLVANIA Silverstar zXe race tonight.

“I think this was definitely our best GRC course, well, this was the only one last year that I won, so obviously I’m going to be a little biased toward this course, but it had a lot of unique stuff,” Pastrana said when he was at NHMS a few weeks ago.

That unique stuff included dirt, a 70-foot jump, high-speed straightaways, 180-degree turns, and a raised corner over pit road. There will be additions to the course this year, including a 140-foot dirt ramp.

Pastrana, naturally, welcomes the challenge of a new course and hopes he can rise to it with another win. But what the 30-year-old driver really wants is to succeed in the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon, CNBC Prime’s “The Profit” 200.

Now part of the Roush Fenway Racing team, Pastrana is in his first full year as a Nationwide driver. He’s made 16 starts this season in the No. 60 Ford and is in 14th place in the points standings. For someone accustomed to gold medals and victory lane, the transition feels a touch slow.

“It’s been very tough, discouraging at times, and encouraging at times, but I tell you what, everybody has been supportive,” Pastrana said.

Some of that support has come from Trevor Bayne, another Nationwide driver for Roush. Bayne, along with most of the Roush team, was with Pastrana at NHMS last month and the two Nationwide drivers met the media together. Without even being asked, Bayne offered up his thoughts on Pastrana’s development.

“You guys are talking about Travis translating to NASCAR and the cool thing about him is that he learns quick,” Bayne said.

Bayne knows about quick learning. He became the youngest driver (20 years, one day) to ever win the Daytona 500 when he took the checkered flag in 2011.

“It would get frustrating for us if we were telling him to do something and he never did it, but we want to keep contributing because he picks it up and he learns, just like here today,” Bayne said. “I can remember our first test at Nashville he was a couple of tenths off and he got better all day, whereas here we unloaded and we were the same lap time. So he’s taken that information and he’s getting better every week and you see a progress and that’s what’s cool about it.”

“It’s definitely learning a lot every weekend,” Pastrana said. “It’s so great being able to come out here and have the whole team here. I can steal a lot of what Trevor is doing and try to learn and copy that and try to figure out how to get as quick as these guys are and eventually being able to go for the win in these things … So it’s awesome having a teammate like Trevor, and even (Cup drivers) Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and Greg (Biffle) and Carl (Edwards), everyone really contributes a lot and offers a lot, and for me to be on a team that has so much knowledge is priceless.”

But there is still plenty of knowledge to gain. Pastrana has been involved in four crashes this year, including one at Talladega after he had won the pole and one last week at Daytona in the Subway Firecracker 250. And fans who were at the NHMS Nationwide race last year, the F.W. Webb 200, will also remember Pastrana’s day ending with a nasty collision. He slammed into the wall when his right front tire blew out thanks to damage suffered on the first lap.

To be fair, not all of the crashes have been Pastrana’s fault. But he’s made no excuses and has said that even if he didn’t cause the collision, he should have seen it coming, like he used to be able to do in motocross. Plus, avoiding crashes is one of the reasons he switched to stock car racing – it’s actually safer than the extreme sports he used to do, which resulted in more than 30 surgeries and countless concussions.

He may not race like a NASCAR driver yet, but Pastrana is a natural fit. He’s loaded with charisma and has the easy-going disposition fans and sponsors love. And he’s got the competitive fire to compete with the best.

“Everybody gives the NASCAR guys a hard time, like in action sports, like, ‘Aww, you just turn left,’ but these are the best drivers in the world, bar none,” Pastrana said. “I have been blown away on the road course, I’ve been blown away on the go karts when we go ride with these guys. They can drive everything and they do drive everything.”

Which means Pastrana, who’s made a career of driving everything, will fit right in.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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