The long-awaited arrival in NASCAR of X Games driver and stunt performer Travis Pastrana will finally happen this weekend when he attempts to quality the #99 car for the Nationwide Series Kroger 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
At the same weekend, former NASCAR regular Scott Speed will return to Cup competition for the Brickyard 400 at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway driving the #37 Max Q Motorsports Ford Fusion in the first of three confirmed races.
Speed will also race at the following Cup events at Pocono and Watkins Glen, where his F1 road course experience will come in very handy, and there are "hopes of [Speed] continuing the rest of the 2011 season pending sponsorship" according to the press release making the announcement from Max Q Motorsports.
"I am excited to get back to the track," said Speed, who has 76 Cup starts to his name before an acrimonious split with Red Bull left him without a berth for 2011. "I'm hopeful that we can get the ball rolling quickly and be competitive out the gate."
But as well known and popular as Speed is in the US, he pales into insignificance compared with the arrival on the scene of superstar daredevil Travis Pastrana, who is bidding to make his national-level NASCAR début in the Kroger 200 after some test appearances at sub-national level in January's Toyota All-Star Race and last week's K&N Pro Series East event. Pastrana will be jetting in overnight Friday from Los Angeles, where he is competing in the X Games. He'll fly right back out straight after the Kroger 200 finishes.
Pastrana's NASCAR appearance could prove to be a disappointment, or even an embarrassment, but that's not going to stop a man who seemingly genuinely knows no fear. "Let's shoot for the moon," Pastrana said: "At worst, we're a shooting star."
But he did admit that he was finding driving a Nationwide car rather more difficult than he had expected. "There's a lot of different ways to drive in a circle and I'm still trying to find the fast way ... Honestly, judging off of the K&N races, we're going to be mid- to back of the pack," he said. "If we get a top-20, I shouldn't say I'd be happy because no driver is ever happy unless they are on top of the podium, but that would be really good for us.
"I want to learn something every race," he continued. "I want to make improvements every race. Even if those improvements aren't in the results, I want to be as competitive as we possibly can be with the experience we have."
Pastrana revealed that he had sought reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's advice on what so do. "He said, 'Look, I could tell you a lot of stuff, but the bottom line is seat time.'"
He'll get that at six further outings at Richmond, Dover, Kansas, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami this year. If those first outings are successful, Pastrana is expected to drive 20 races in the 2012 season under a three-year contract to drive the #99 with business partner Michael Waltrip's team.
Pastrana's Nationwide preparations did hit a slight bump when it was announced Monday that Michael Waltrip Racing's executive vice-president of operations, Cal Wells, was to abruptly leave the company in the run-up to the Indianapolis weekend.
"We want to thank Cal for his strong contribution to getting Michael Waltrip Racing to where it is today. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors," team co-owners Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip said in a very curt press release. "We plan to go forward now with the solid management team that is in place, and bring MWR to the next level." The departure was a mutual agreement, they insisted.
Wells was in charge of day-to-day operations for MWR's three Cup teams as well as for the #99 that Pastrana will be driving on Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway, still better known by its old name of Indianapolis Raceway Park. Wells had been with the team since 2007, but this year the team's drivers Martin Truex Jr and David Reutimann are outside the top 20 in the Cup points and have no victories in 2011. The team also recently lost their director of vehicle design Mike Coughlan, who decided to leave to join the Williams F1 team.
Pastrana also confirmed at the weekend that he was one of the motor racing stars so far to have put in an application for the IndyCar World Championships
at Las Vegas in an attempt to scoop the $5 million prize for any non-series regular who can win the race.