Almost a year ago, action sports star and 17-time X Games medalist Travis Pastrana was scheduled to make his debut as a driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series when an injury in the Summer X Games derailed his plans.
After time for his badly broken ankle to heal, Pastrana will race tonight in a 250-lap event at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
NASCAR racing is a complete departure from the type of competition that has made Pastrana’s name. He’s very aware of the steep learning curve he faces.
“We have a great sponsor base and great fan base, but really I have not established myself as a NASCAR driver,” Pastrana said on a media conference call.
“So I’m really trying to learn as much as I can about the sport. I know it’s going to be a long road, and I’m not going to just jump in and take off where I left off in Rally or motocross. I understand that.”
Wildly popular with the younger generation, Pastrana hopes that his fan base follows him to NASCAR.
“I’ve been criticized a lot by the fans who honestly don’t understand how you can come from doing back flips and Nitro Circus to racing in a circle,” said Pastrana, who is featured in a new This Is SportsCenter spot that debuted this week.
“What they don’t understand is this is the most competitive, most intense form of racing that I’ve ever experienced. And as a fan, anyone that’s gone to a NASCAR race, understands it.”
What’s the story behind his This Is SportsCenter ad, which co-stars anchors Jay Harris and John Buccigross?
Jeffrey Gonyo, ESPN’s senior director of sports marketing, said the ad was shot in February with Pastrana’s NASCAR debut in mind.
“We wanted to celebrate his new venture while paying homage to his action sports identity,” Gonyo said. “We had always planned to time the launch with his first Nationwide race.”
Pastrana’s “daring” encounter with a fax machine has “many viewers identifying with a classic office truth.”
Since its April 23 debut on ESPN’s YouTube channel, the ad has registered more than 97,000 hits.