Race Weekend Central

Jimmie Johnson & Travis Pastrana Bond Over Daytona 500 Berth

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Over 10 years ago, Travis Pastrana talked to Jimmie Johnson shortly after the latter had won at Auto Club Speedway in one of his many triumphs there.

The action sports legend had had a few drinks before walking up the future NASCAR legend and his wife. In his newfound excitement of NASCAR, he exclaimed, “I want to do the Daytona 500!” to Johnson.

Over 10 years later, that drunken idea would become reality. The two shared a pit road at Daytona International Speedway as Pastrana sweated bullets while watching the No. 62 of Austin Hill start his qualifying lap during Daytona 500 qualifying on Wednesday (Feb. 15).

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As Hill crossed the line, Pastrana looked up and saw the No. 62 had posted a slower time than he had. He immediately leaped into the air and howled with a smile on his face. Johnson joined him shortly after. Both drivers, who needed a fast enough time to make the field, had locked themselves into the Great American Race.

“This. This is a dream come true,” exclaimed the 23XI Racing driver.

As the two embraced, Pastrana praised Johnson on his driving, excited that he would get to share the same field on Sunday.

And understandably so.

Johnson, who has won the Great American Race twice in his career already, isn’t used to the challenge of having to qualify his way into the field. After winning seven championships and earning 83 wins, qualifying has almost never been an issue for him.

However, after taking a two-year hiatus from the world of NASCAR in 2021 and 2022, he returned this year in a co-ownership/driver role with a reinvigorated race team of LEGACY MOTOR CLUB. With no charter, it would mean the 47-year-old would have to join the open field teams and have to compete for one of those open spots in the 40-car field for the first time since his rookie year in 2002.

But that’s not a problem for a seven-time champion right?

If you had asked him, he would have disagreed. In fact, up until he saw his results, he thought he hadn’t posted a fast enough time.

“The entire lap I made around, I thought something was potentially wrong with the car RPM was really low,” said Johnson. “I didn’t feel very fast. Then, you know, once across the finish line, I heard we had a good lap.

“It was stressful out there. More stressful than I intended it to be.”

But he actually had the fastest time of all the open cars, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

For Pastrana, however, it couldn’t have been more nerve-racking.

“This is definitely the first time I went to an event really concerned with qualifying,” said Pastrana.

The 39-year-old actions sports legend had been in sweaty nerve-racking situations for almost his entire life. Whether it be death-defying dirt bike stunts or slamming doors in rally cross skirmishes, he’s no stranger to danger.

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But NASCAR hasn’t been his strong suit.

In 42 NASCAR Xfinity Series races in 2012 and 2013, the rallycross racer only posted four top 10s and earned an average finish of 21.3.

“I’m a motocrosser,” said Pastrana. “I’ve been able to rally and do a lot of fun things. We dabbled a little bit in NASCAR, and I got chewed up and spit out by these guys really fast.

“But at the end of the day, it’s because they’re the best drivers, I believe, in the entire world.”

Yet as Hill crossed the line, all those nerves had dissipated. Pastrana, an 11-time X Games gold medalist would fulfill his dream of racing in the Daytona 500.

But Pastrana is a competitive racer, and he won’t rest on his laurels yet.

“You know, it’s funny because everyone’s celebrating and excited and Kurt Busch came right up to me at the end,” said Pastrana. “He’s like, ‘Now the homework starts. Let’s get to work.'”

Indeed. The real racing starts tomorrow night.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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