Travis Pastrana Coming To NASCAR: Will He Be Better Than Danica Patrick?

Hank EptonCorrespondent INovember 12, 2010

LONG BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 31: In this handout image provided by Red Bull Photofiles, Travis Pastrana poses after breaking the world record for the longest distance jump in a rally car on December 31, 2009 in Long Beach, California. The ramp to ramp jump was made over water at the 'RedBull: New Year. No Limits.' event. Pastrana jumped in his rally car off the Pine Street Pier onto a floating barge anchored in Long Beach's Rainbow Harbor, establishing a new record of 269, shattering the existing mark of 171 feet. (Photo by Garth Milan/Red Bull Photofiles via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

Extreme Motorsports maven and MTV darling Travis Pastrana announced on Thursday his plans to join a growing list of drivers from other disciplines attempting to dip his toe in the NASCAR waters.

Pastrana has made a name for himself in the X-Games and with his incredible ability to jump cars and motorcycles.

He follows motorcycle legend Ricky Carmichael and IndyCar star Danica Patrick into the Nationwide Series, with plans to run seven races in 2011 and 20 in 2012 under the Pastrana-Waltrip racing banner.

He’ll enter a series that certainly will be less dominated by Cup drivers as it has in the past several years, since there have been more and more hints that next year there will be some restrictions on Cup drivers competing full-time for the title.

Pastrana’s credentials in the disciplines he has competed in are impressive. He’s captured 10 gold medals in the X-Games,and has become one of the standard bearers of the extreme motorsports crowd.

What can he expect in NASCAR? Danica Patrick’s experience is at least a good place to start in terms of experience.

Danica Patrick had a couple of things working for her compared Pastrana as she entered the Nationwide Series in 2010. She had some familiarity with many of the racetracks, she’s accustomed to running ovals in long distances, and obviously the tracks don’t have ramps.

Pastrana's rally racing experience does provide a couple of important primers for the move. He’ll have to drive the cars free to get them fast, which is of course common in rally racing, and it was a skill that served four-time Sprint Cup Champ Jimmie Johnson well in his early years in NASCAR.

Will he perform better than Patrick has in his first year of competition? He has a couple of things in his favor.

The dirt racing he has done will give him a leg up in the seat-of-the-pants style required to drive a stock car. Time and time again drivers have indicated how hard they have to drive the Nationwide car to get the speed out of it with the tapered spacers, and driving the car in yaw should serve him well.

Patrick, on the other hand, was used to driving a car that was far more stable when she made her move to stock cars, and one of the hindrances to her succeeding early in the Nationwide Series has been adapting to the heavy cars and the yaw that they have to be driven through the corners to get them fast.

Driving on dirt just by itself could be a tremendous help to Pastrana. Many of NASCAR’s biggest stars came from dirt to run in the Nationwide, Camping World and Sprint Cup Series and it’s served them all well.

Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and many of today’s prominent drivers came from the red clay, while Patrick cut her teeth running on pavement both in the United States and Europe.

The dirt has been the preferred path to stardom in NASCAR, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t hold true for Pastrana. That could give him an edge over Patrick if history repeats itself in his first season.

Regardless of his results, Pastrana is an icon in the extreme sports community. NASCAR could benefit from his fans coming over and watching him compete in America’s most popular form of motorsports.

Declining ratings are a current concern for NASCAR. Pastrana’s entry into the sport could bring a whole new group of fans to the sport, while Patrick’s life in the traditional motorsports disciplines probably didn’t bring as many new fans in, but rather generated more excitement in a section of the traditional fanbase.

Considering the great divide between what Pastrana has done to this point in his career and his plans for 2011, it’s difficult to make any true predictions on how he’ll fare.

Some drivers have taken to stock cars quickly, but others have found a steep learning curve.

Either way, a Nationwide Series that could be lacking in star power from the Sprint Cup series in 2011 could benefit from the high-flying Pastrana and his legions of young fans flocking to watch him on the high banks instead of at high altitudes.