Travis Pastrana Gears Up for ‘Sink or Swim’ Attempt To Qualify for the Daytona 500

February 14, 2023Jenna Biter
Travis Pastrana

Travis Pastrana in his racing suit. Black Rifle Coffee Company photo.

Motor sports icon Travis Pastrana will take the wheel in Florida this Wednesday to vie for a spot in NASCAR’s upcoming Daytona 500. Qualifying to compete in the 65th Great American Race on Sunday, Feb. 19, would tick a big box on Pastrana’s bucket list.

“If you don’t watch football, you still probably watch the Super Bowl,” Pastrana told Coffee or Die. “And that’s what the Daytona 500 is for motor sport. I mean, shoot, since I was 4, I can remember wanting to be a part of it.”

The Daytona 500 is the best-known — and the most prestigious — race in all of NASCAR. The 500-mile, roughly three-and-a-half-hour marathon opens the season for the elite Cup Series. Forty drivers hit the starting grid each year, and only a few of those spots are up for grabs. Pastrana, a relative newcomer to the sport, is trying to snag one of them.

Driving the No. 67 Black Rifle Coffee Company car, Pastrana will race for 23XI Racing, joining a roster that includes full-time NASCAR drivers Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. The 39-year-old motocross and rally car legend signed with BRCC’s motor sports team last January. (Black Rifle Coffee owns Coffee or Die.)

23XI Racing

On Feb. 6, 2023, 23XI Racing revealed the paint scheme for Travis Pastrana’s No. 67 Toyota Camry TRD. Pastrana will attempt to qualify for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in the Cup Series car. 23XI Racing image.

Cool Gear: Check out BRCC's Travis Pastrana Collection.

Starting Wednesday, Pastrana and at least a half-dozen other non-chartered drivers — athletes who don’t have a guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500 — will compete for four open slots. The first leg of the qualifier is a solo time trial, in which each driver will complete one lap around the Daytona International Speedway, pushing their cars close to 200 mph. (The 36 chartered drivers will also participate in the time trial, as it determines the starting front line for the Daytona 500.) The fastest two non-chartered finishers will earn starts in the 2023 Great American Race. Then, on Thursday, a pair of 150-mile races, or Duels, will decide who gets the other two slots (as well as the rest of the starting order for the 500).

Pastrana is a bit of a wild card. He’s driven plenty of races in his time, but none in a Cup car. Also, the competition is stiff. The field of six includes seven-time Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson.

“Nervous is kind of an understatement,” Pastrana said. “But to have an opportunity to try to qualify for the Great American Race, to have such an awesome two weeks leading up to it, of a bunch of stuff that I have no real experience with, and jumping in at the very highest level – it’s kind of sink or swim.”

“Hopefully, we’ll float more than we sink,” he added.

Black Rifle Coffee Company

Action sports icon Travis Pastrana joined the BRCC motor sports team in January 2022. Black Rifle Coffee Company photo.

Get In, Get On, Go Fast

Indeed, Pastrana is diving headlong into the deep end. The motor sports superstar doesn’t have much experience in a Cup Series car, let alone in the world of high-speed pavement racing. A native of Annapolis, Maryland, he rose to fame in the early 2000s through his achievements in motocross and rally racing, where speeds seldom top 100 mph and tracks are typically unpaved.

Yet it is not out of character for Pastrana to attempt something as ambitious as the Daytona 500. He has a knack for operating outside his comfort zone. In addition to winning 17 X Games medals, he has broken a handful of Evel Knievel’s stunt world records, and even founded a rallycross racing series called Nitro Rallycross, of which he himself is the reigning champ.

NASCAR is an entirely different beast. To be clear, Pastrana isn’t a total stranger to the sport. A decade ago, he raced a full season in the Nationwide Series (now Xfinity), a second-tier circuit serving as a sort of feeder league for the Cup Series. There, in 2013, Pastrana earned four top-10 finishes. Pastrana has also competed in the NASCAR Truck Series, with his last start in 2020.

“I started down the NASCAR track, and the main goal was eventually to try and run the Daytona 500,” Pastrana said. “I never made it to the Cup Series, and it kind of got put on the back burner.”

Pastrana’s crew chief at 23XI Racing, Eric Phillips, a NASCAR veteran with roughly 30 years in the industry, told Coffee or Die that he is feeling confident about the qualifier, though he was quick to note that earning a place on the Daytona 500’s starting grid is a monumental feat, even for seasoned Cup Series drivers.

“It’s a tall task just to qualify for the 500,” Phillips said. “There are a lot of good cars. We all spend a couple of months preparing to go there.”

Nevertheless, Phillips believes that Pastrana’s broad racing experience makes him a viable dark horse.

“He’s done so many amazing things,” Phillips said. “Travis does so many different kinds of racing and motor sports. It seems like whatever has wheels that he can get in, get on, and go fast, he’s a part of.”

Find out more: What are Travis Pastrana's favorite BRCC products?

Travis Pastrana

Motocross legend Travis Pastrana on a dirt bike. Black Rifle Coffee Company photo.

Eyes on the Prize

Just ahead of the Daytona 500 qualifier, Pastrana is proving Phillips’ point. He spent the first weekend of February in Canada, racing in the Nitro Rallycross. Then he caught a red-eye to Florida for DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, where he drove a UMP (pronounced U-M-P) Modified car and won one race during the five-day competition.

On Friday, Feb. 17, in the brief window of time between the Daytona 500 qualifier and the actual race, Pastrana will hop back in a pickup to open the NASCAR Truck Series for Niece Motorsports. With the support of Black Rifle Coffee, Pastrana is trying to compete in as many events as possible in Florida Speedweeks.

“Let’s just do everything,” he said.

Despite his full racing schedule, Pastrana has remained laser focused on the Daytona 500. Last week, he skipped a day on the dirt track to link up with the 23XI Racing team in North Carolina. There, he got into the driver’s seat of his Cup Series car, the No. 67 Toyota Camry TRD, for the very first time. Before that, he had only ever driven an old “tire-changing” Cup car.

“He sat in the car with his helmet on and fired the thing up and took off,” Phillips said. “Not at a high rate of speed or anything, but at least a couple of hundred feet in the parking lot, and we let him do that a couple of times just to be familiar with the shifter and where all of his tools are.”

Pastrana said he feels comfortable in the No. 67 car. Last season, Cup cars switched from the standard H-pattern gearbox to sequential shifting, which Pastrana has used for years in rally car racing. He has also been training in a racing simulator with the help of the 23XI Racing crew.

“Some guys, it’s like Groundhog Day every day,” Phillips said. “But Travis listens and takes it in. He’s really engaged in the process and what’s going on.”

“It’s just refreshing,” he added.

Just Don’t Crash

Pastrana told Coffee or Die he could have tried for a guaranteed, or chartered, slot in the Daytona 500. Instead, he opted to drive for 23XI Racing and go for one of the four “open” spots.

“Most of the teams willing to let you drive the car with the charter, they’re not necessarily the top,” he said.

Pastrana wanted to race for a team that would give him a real shot at the starting grid, and the Daytona 500 title beyond that. He said the crew at 23XI racing (owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, a full-time NASCAR driver and 48-time Cup Series race winner) believe in his driving abilities.

BRCC Presents: Travis Pastrana

Travis Pastrana

Rallycross driver Travis Pastrana greets a fan. Black Rifle Coffee Company photo.

“They said, ‘Look, we believe you can drive; we believe you can help us have a great result with another Toyota in the field, another 23XI car,’” Pastrana said. “The 23XI team was the team where I felt I could get the best equipment and that they believed in me and that they believed they had a car to get me there.”

Now, Pastrana just has to do the damn thing. The time trials begin at 8:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, starting after 7 p.m., drivers will race in one of the two Duels.

“For me, the biggest success will be just an awesome two weeks with the Black Rifle crew with all the fans, with family, with everybody who comes out,” Pastrana said. “And to finish on the lead lap without crashing, in the Truck Series and the Cup Series races.”

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Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

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