To hear the ever-excitable Travis Pastrana talk can be a mile-a-minute experience. It's almost as if this trait prepared him for last weekend's racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, where NASCAR's best cover roughly two miles a minute.
The learning curve for Pastrana in this, his rookie Nationwide Series season, remains steep, primarily because of the strength of competition. If his ability to speak the lingo is any indication, Pastrana is catching on at an accelerated pace.
In last Saturday's Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300, Pastrana's communication with his crew nearly resembled that of a veteran, not someone with just 13 Nationwide starts in his portfolio. The full-time NASCAR driver with the extreme sports following is no stranger to speed in a variety of vehicles, but telling his Roush Fenway Racing crew which adjustments to make to his No. 60 Ford has been a huge component of his stock-car racing education.
"We're getting there," Pastrana said Saturday after his 16th-place finish. "I know what I want the car to do to make it more comfortable, but I don't know what I want to do to make the car faster. A lot of times, they're two completely different things."
Finding comfort in the confines of the World's Fastest Half-Mile was a significant starting point for Pastrana in his Bristol Nationwide debut. Even as he learns the secrets of speed through communication, his familiarity with the terminology is clear.
Turning four laps roughly every minute at high G-forces with 39 other cars on the .533-mile short track makes transmitting detailed information about a car's handling nearly impossible during green-flag conditions. But during each of the race's eight caution periods, Pastrana radioed in to crew chief Chad Norris and terms such as "loose on entry," "tight center" and "loose off" rolled off his tongue.
While the adjustments didn't help Pastrana pick off his rivals on his way to the top 10, it did help him survive 300 laps at one of NASCAR's most demanding tracks with all four corners of the car intact at the finish.
"It felt really good there at the end, so I learned a lot," Pastrana said. "I feel like if we could start the day over again with the knowledge we have now, we would be better but that's my goal -- more knowledgeable at the end of the day."
That was plenty for car owner Jack Roush, who gave Pastrana two thumbs up and a pat on the back after the checkered flag.
"Solid, really solid," Roush said.
"I'm trying," Pastrana said. "We learned a lot, Jack, so when we come back, we'll be a little quicker."
"You didn't have the best car today," Roush concluded, "but you did a nice job with it."
The other end of the communication cog that helped keep his brightly colored machine clean by day's end happened to be veteran spotter Joel Edmonds, who also acts as the second set of eyes for Greg Biffle in the Sprint Cup series. The near-constant chatter from Edmonds was nothing entirely new for Pastrana, who became well conditioned to highly vocal spotters in rally-cross competition.
"I've just got to keep remembering when I can't see people and he's saying 'outside' or 'inside,' I tend to kind of push the envelope with how far I can go," Pastrana said, "and because I can't see them physically and I'm hearing 'they're still there, still there.' It could be three or four laps and I'm like, 'I don't see this imaginary person that you're talking about! I feel fine. I want that line!' I just need to listen better, understand it better. We're on a pretty good pace right now."
Pastrana hasn't forgotten to have fun along the way, adding a dose of levity to his radio transmissions. "Do we want to do something crazy here, stay out and lead a lap?" he asked during an early yellow flag. "Whatever you did there, yeah, don't do that again," he cracked after an midrace adjustment went awry. Then, after lining up for a restart as the second car one lap down to defending Cup champ Brad Keselowski: "Augh! That's not the guy I want to be racing for the lucky dog."
The lighter moments aside, Pastrana's fierce determination has impressed teammate Trevor Bayne thus far. As all sides of the communication begin to click, Bayne says there's no limit to how far Pastrana could go.
"He didn't come here just to make laps and get experience; he wants to be good at it," Bayne said. "To be good at something you have to be a listener and you have to be able to put it into action, and that's two things he's shown me so far this year."
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