Pastrana making headway with help of driver coach Crafton

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Travis Pastrana
Travis Pastrana

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Travis Pastrana, No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota Camry, RAB Racing

What has it been like to work with Matt Crafton as you learn more about NASCAR?

"It's really awesome for testing because someone can say, 'Oh, it's about three-quarters throttle, you have to give some out at about 80 percent, or ease the throttle out or ease the brakes out.' When Matt (Crafton) can jump in the car and I can actually see it visually on a graph how much, exactly what he's talking about -- that helps so much. It's tracks like this (Chicagoland Speedway) that I've never driven on, like for instance I went to my first Nationwide race at Richmond and Matt came in, I was like, 'Guys, car is super loose coming in and super tight in the center.' Matt jumps in the car and goes, 'Okay, nope, it's just really tight everywhere, you're just using the wrong line.' You don't get a lot of time to drive these courses, so as I'm learning the courses, they're asking me for feedback on the car and if I'm driving the wrong one, then my feedback is going to be entirely incorrect. It's good to get that. I'll go out for a session and (ask) Matt, 'Tell me how the car is and if it's close, I'll keep running the track. If it's not, then I have to figure out how to drive it differently.'"

How is the learning curve in NASCAR different than other racing you've done in the past?

"I think the more competition you have, the longer the learning curve. Jumping in this first race in the Pro 2 truck two days ago and because there's not as many people, you can be more competitive quicker. When you look at NASCAR, there are so many guys that are so good. I went to just a local track and qualified 21st and less than two-tenths of a second off pole. The fine line in this is so precise, so the learning curve going to take time. But Motorcross, I started driving motorcycles at four and didn't win a championship until 16. There were years and everything. This one is a lot more -- if I make a mistake in NASCAR, it's the next day as opposed to Rally where we had one full year of crashing and one year of outside the podium every race and the next year we win the championship. That was a faster progression than this learning curve is going to be because there is a lot more really great drivers with great teams."

Why did you want to compete in NASCAR?

"I wanted to do it because of the competition. Guys like Matt (Crafton), I've met more guys that are willing to help guys. Matt couldn't make it last weekend and Joey Logano jumps in my car and says, 'Hey, I'm not running the Nationwide Series today, let me jump in and try to help you like Matt's been doing.' I've never experienced so many guys so willing to help -- it's such a big family. It's going to be a ride -- it's been fun, a really good experience."

How difficult is it to be patient as you learn more about driving in NASCAR?

"Extremely, that's one of the difficult things that Matt (Crafton) keeps -- I see that carrot in front of me and he's like, 'Just slow down your entry.' I'm like, 'They're pulling away.' He's like, 'Look, this is how fast of what you setup the car, this is as fast as you can come in and you have to beat them coming off the corner.' I want to just come in, like in Motorcross and everything else has been about aggression. So, for me to be patient with the driving and keeping from burning the right rear completely off the tire and not being sideways. The harder I try to drive these cars, the slower I drive. I want to keep getting in there and keep getting more experience. Everyone is like, 'Your results aren't really proving.' Well, the first time I had no expectations, I just jumped in and kind of cruised around and didn't make mistakes. Now, as I try to go faster, we're going slower. It's interesting and we had a lot of testing and went to Milwaukee and was able to really try a tight car, try a loose car. I've go a hand on it right now and Matt's trying to give me the tools to be able to drive more than just one type of car."

How much is the track a factor when you go to a track for the first time?

"Matt (Crafton), what do you say about every track we go to? (laughter, Matt Crafton: "This one is going to be one of the toughest places you go, that's what I always tell him.") Every track has so many different characteristics. It seems from the outside, I'm dumbfounded because I'm like, there's two corners -- I know you call it four, but there's usually two corners, sometimes there's three. I'm like, how can this be so different every single weekend? How can the line change so much from what -- we went to Charlotte and it was cooling off towards the end of the afternoon during the final practice and we had a great setup. I went to the race and I had to play a complete idiot, or I felt like one. How can it change that much, the track setup from just cooling down to warming up? It's been a very trying, and it's amazing how fine of a line -- you set the car up and you're like, 'This thing's amazing.' Heck, I go out in Richmond and we're moving up through the pack. I pass (Brad) Keselowski and I'm like, 'This is going good.' Then go into pit and I'm like car is good, and we come out and they're all two-tenths faster and what happened, what did you guys change? Just learning what you want out of the car and what's going to be on the long run."

What do your fans think of you competing in NASCAR?

"It's really interesting, because when I said I was going to NASCAR, I got probably more criticism than I've ever received. What was interesting was, when these guys come to the races, I took a group of my friends that think action sports are awesome and NASCAR is (stereotypical) and kind of joke about it. They came down to Daytona and half my friends have gone to races that I haven't even been racing in. They love the competition nature and the speed. It's really neat to see. (Ricky) Carmichael really opened the door. He brought a lot of those action sports -- more of the racing fans to kind of come over and understand it a little bit. I have my trainer, he does Ironman and stuff like that and he was training me for Motorcross and never really thought about training (for NASCAR). I was like, 'I need some help.' I got out of the car at Charlotte and I was dying. He just kind of looked at me like really. We were sitting there and like Matt (Crafton) said, the biggest thing that he did was sit in a sauna. It seems odd. You don't really work that hard, but you're completely physically drained and spent to get out of these cars. There's a lot of nutrition that you can do to help out a lot. As he starts learning more, he's watched every single one of Matt's races, he's come to half of our races. It's funny, the more you know about NASCAR, the more you want to know and I think that's what's really neat and that's what some of the younger audience is starting to find out."

What have you been doing to physically prepare for NASCAR races?

"Honestly it's more fluid, diet and nutrition, and also it never hurts to be -- you see a lot of these guys get more and more fit and that's because they're wheeling the cars more and more. Same thing in Motorcross, when (Ricky) Carmichael came into Motorcross, everyone would run 10 laps hard and kind of cruise to the finish. Carmichael wasn't necessarily the fastest, but he figured out a way to go all 20 hard and he stepped up the bar."

Matt Crafton, No. 88 Schrock Cabinetry/Menards Toyota Tundra, ThorSport Racing

How did you become Travis Pastrana's driver coach?

"It's been fun. Gary Bechtel called me a year-and-a-half ago at least and asked if I wanted to go help (Travis Pastrana). I went down to some race track in Florida and tested with him the first day, I didn't know what he was going to be like. I didn't know if he was going airy famous guys. The first day working with him, this guy's alright and after the second day he asked if I wanted to keep helping him. It was definitely a very easy decision to keep up and very good to work with and learn and wants to do this -- I mean really truly wants to this and he will get it."

How do you teach someone how to drive these cars?

"He knows how to drive the race cars. Just learning some of -- breaking some of his bad habits. That's some of the biggest things that I've seen him have in some of the Rally stuff. They go in and use a ton of brake and back-ping the corner and let off the brake and stay in the gas. That's 100 percent what you don't want to do in a stock car. You want to be smooth with the brake pedal, you're modulating the brake pedal on a lot of the short tracks. With all the telemetry, he can see exactly what I'm doing with the brake pedal and with the throttle pedal. All it is, is speeding up his learning curve. I've been racing go-karts since I was seven, I've been racing the Trucks going on 12 years, so I have a lot of experience in that stuff. I think that's what is going to speed up his learning curve. I don't think he's going to have quite as long to figure it out because he is kind of getting old."

What are you teaching Travis Pastrana about Chicagoland Speedway?

"All these mile-and-a-halfs race a little bit different. This is maybe in between Kentucky and Texas. It definitely doesn't have the banking of Texas that you race. It's similar, it has a ton of grip. What's really cool about this race track, you can move around. It's not everybody driving around the bottom. As Truck practice went on, you're second and two-and-a-half lanes up. Just getting up there and working with (Travis Pastrana) on changing his lines and move around if the car is doing something. Okay, you can change your line to help it do something else. That's what I'm here for today."

What has it been like for you as a driver in NASCAR to take on the role of teacher?

"Honestly, I didn't know if I was going to like it. He's (Travis Pastrana) been so willing to learn and wanting to learn so much, that's what is so awesome about it. I didn't get to get in and drive it, it's ridiculous how they get me to reach the pedals, but I actually do. It's pretty impressive, he's quite a bit taller than me. That's one of the biggest things, how willing he is to learn and wanting it so bad. It's a lot of fun."

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Series NASCAR-NS
Article type Interview
Tags crafton, nascar, pastrana, rab, thorsport, toyota, truck, waltrip