TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The impact with the wall was nothing compared to the way Travis Pastrana beat himself up afterward.
One day after winning his first pole position in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Pastrana's hopes of a first race victory ended Saturday when he was caught up in an accident not of his own making on the giant 2.66-mile track at Talladega. Brian Scott and Reed Sorenson tangled, and Pastrana barreled into the No. 43 car hard enough to lift it off the ground. The former X Games star then rebounded into the outside wall before coming to rest in soggy infield grass.
On a track where cars compete in such close proximity to one another, there was virtually nothing the Roush Fenway Racing driver could do to avoid Sorenson's car abruptly turning sideways in front of him. But that didn't stop Pastrana from blaming himself, believing he should have been in a better position to stay clear of the accident.
"We had a strategy -- hey, let's try to stay in the back after we try to lead a lap," said Pastrana, who drafted with teammate Trevor Bayne for much of the race. "I don't know what happened, but we were up there in the front and got tangled in somebody else's mess, and we've got the two fastest cars on the track. For me to be out already is just stupid on my part."
Indeed, after winning the pole Friday, Pastrana said the plan was to lead early, drop to the back and then make a charge late. Pastrana led the first four circuits around NASCAR's biggest track, and then dropped back in the field when he and Bayne became separated. He was running seventh just before Scott wobbled into Sorenson, who was struck broadside by the onrushing No. 60 car.
Pastrana took a hard hit into the outside wall, but afterward only his pride was aching.
"Nowhere to go when the crash happened, but we shouldn't have been there," he said. "There's no reason we should have been there. That's entirely my fault. I knew Trevor was going to be running up front, but we could be sitting a half-lap back and we still could have had a chance to go for the win. We had a great car and could have met up with him later. But I didn't stick to the strategy, and that's why I'm being hard on myself. There was a strategy that would have had us with a chance with a couple laps to go. And now I'm sitting in the pits."
Standing outside the Talladega infield care center, this wasn't the happy-go-lucky Pastrana people have seen so often since his transition from extreme sports to NASCAR. Teaming up with car owner Jack Roush came with the caveat that it was time to get serious, a mental shift that Pastrana -- who earlier in his career thrived under no-nonsense motorcycle program manager Roger DeCoster -- was more than willing to make.
All of which might explain why Pastrana was so hard on himself even in the aftermath of an accident that wasn't his fault, and he couldn't avoid. "It's stupid," he said. "I just feel like a complete idiot. I mean, the race is going on and I've got to watch the rest of this thing. Trevor's got a great car, but it would have been awesome to put our two cars together."
Bayne would join him in the garage soon enough, after the No. 6 car was caught up in an 11-vehicle accident that knocked out several contenders -- including former series leader Sam Hornish Jr., who left down 27 points to race winner Regan Smith. As Pastrana was hurtling toward the wall, he wasn't thinking about how much the impact was going to sting. He was thinking about how painful it was going to be to lose such a good car.
"At the meeting on Monday, Jack's going to say, 'You two guys had the two fastest cars and should have put them 1-2,' " Pastrana said. "And we doggone should have put them 1-2. Just devastated for the team."
Talladega shaped up as Pastrana's best chance to contend for a race victory since the season opener at Daytona, where he evaded the big wreck on the final lap that sent Kyle Larson's car into the catchfence to finish 10th. He was coming off his best career finish in the series, ninth a week ago at Richmond, and was clearly elated after winning his first pole Friday.
Late Saturday afternoon, that accomplishment seemed very far away -- a feeling only accentuated by gloomy skies and rain earlier in the day that delayed the start of the Nationwide race, which finished at dusk.
"You're only as good as your last performance, and we put this one into the side of a backward 43 car," Pastrana said. "Yeah, I'll always have that I led the (field) to the green. It's just a shame. You don't get great cars every race. You're lucky to get the two best cars on the track on your team at any event for the year. To have that at this event and to be watching the race is just devastating."
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