Travis Pastrana, #67 Black Rifle Coffee Toyota (left) and Jimmie Johnson, #84 Carvana Chevrolet, chat on the grid during Daytona 500 qualifying. (Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Travis Pastrana jumped out of a plane without a parachute, but has never driven a NASCAR faster than 40 mph (NASCAR)’s premier Cup series. He had never driven even a single lap on the steep, high-speed course at Daytona International Speedway. Despite flirting with NASCAR before, Pastrana had never attempted to qualify for the Daytona 500 before.

So when the extreme sports star found himself on the grid just one car away from good friend and seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, it might have been a last-minute tribute to the two for Pastrana. A good time to ask for advice – time the Daytona 500 winner.

Johnson just returned to NASCAR after a two-year stint in the IndyCar series, and like Pastrana, the aging superstars aren’t guaranteed a spot in Sunday’s season opener.

But the two skipped small talk about getting in or out or throttle or speed. Johnson’s two daughters were participating in a nearby horse race. Pastrana at cheerleading camp. That’s what a pair of dads chatted ahead of one of the most stressful moments of their NASCAR lives.

Pastrana watched as Johnson opted to start this season, trying to complete his lap on the video board. Johnson has been shaken by a bumpy journey with his new Legacy Motor Club team, and after two years away he has no idea what the next generation of cars should look like.

“You’re a professional!” Pastrana gushed to Johnson after the meeting.

When it came time for Pastrana to qualify for the 23XI Racing Toyota, his drive was smoother and, like Johnson, quick enough for the pair to claim the 40-driver Daytona 500. Two of the four vacancies.

That’s it, a Daytona 500 Champion and X Games Champion One of the biggest awards in NASCAR will be up for grabs.

There were six drivers vying for the spot, with Johnson and Pastrana winning two prizes through the time trial. The other four races will conclude with two qualifying sessions on Thursday night.

“Of course, I want to win. I get in the car, that’s the standard thing, that’s what I want to do,” Johnson said. “But it’s more about long-term racing. It’s more about being a part of a growing racing team than it’s really about the fiercely competitive team that I’ve been running.”

Pastrana, nearly 40 years old, turned his attention to landing a Dayonta 500 position, erupting in celebration after the qualifying lap. He was approached by former Cup winner, Daytona 500 winner and current 23XI/Toyota coach Kurt Busch, who was forced to retire last season after suffering a lingering concussion in July.

Busch offers Pastrana some reality: “Kurt Busch finally came up to me and said, ‘Okay, now we’re going to work.'”

Pastrana’s definition of a job may not match the idiom inside NASCAR.

That’s the hell breeder of that 1 million-view YouTube video dedicated to his gnarliest crashes. So driving what is arguably the safest car in NASCAR history may not necessarily present the same challenges as, say, a brave backflip into the Grand Canyon.

Still, Pastrana is poised to win all those golds and make fans hold their breath for each horrific maneuver. Unlike Johnson, 47, who believed he could win on Sunday, Pastrana was just happy to try. His team, the one co-owned by Michael Jordan, has the ability to get into Pastrana, and Toyota has an engine quick enough to get him in his dream race.

“If I can get the car to the finish line with the leading lap, I’ve never said anything before that other than win, but it will be a win,” Pastrana said.

It might be fitting if Pastrana can make it to the finish line and somehow watch Johnson win the Daytona 500 for the third time. Years ago, Pastrana and his wife went on their first date at the NASCAR track in Fontana, California, to watch Johnson race. Pastrana said he kept Johnson talking late about one day running in his own NASCAR career.

Ten years ago, he tried his hand at a NASCAR career, and in 2013 he ran a full Xfinity Series schedule for Roush Fenway Racing. Pastrana did finish 10th at Daytona in 2013 in the second class Xfinity race, although the car has evolved and he’s still a regular car novice – maybe it offers a bit of potential, maybe he can Be competitive on Sunday.

That is, if he makes it to the end.

“I said to my wife, ‘Look, I want to spend more time at home. I want to step back a little bit. But right now this is the best opportunity I’ve ever had, the biggest success I’ve had in the automotive world, to show The best of me,” Pastrana said.


Associated Press racing writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this story


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