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NASCAR in New Hampshire

Travis Pastrana, from X Games to NASCAR

High-flying Travis Pastrana is learning the ins and outs of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

High-flying Travis Pastrana is learning the ins and outs of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.

Trevor Bayne didn’t need any hard evidence.

He knew Travis Pastrana, the thrill-seeking former motocross champion turned action sports figure and 11-time gold medalist in various X Games events, was wired differently.

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Bayne knew it well before 2012 when he witnessed Pastrana perform a world-record ramp-to-ramp jump in a rally car, sailing 269 feet through the air onto a barge in the harbor at Long Beach, Calif. He knew it from Pastrana’s MTV television show and action movie, “Nitro Circus,’’ which depicts a variety of off-beat motorized stunts.

So when or where did Bayne actually know Pastrana, who jumped out of an airplane without a parachute before joining another jumper to execute a tandem landing in a well-choreographed stunt in 2007, was cut from a different cloth than your average stock car driver?

“Well, it was actually in California, but I already knew that,’’ said Bayne, Pastrana’s Nationwide Series teammate at Roush Fenway Racing. “I had seen his videos before and it was actually a cool deal they had set up there, being there on New Year’s and seeing him jump that rally car. It’s not something that I would do, but I would definitely try it on a race track.’’

During a test session last month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Pastrana spoke about how he relished a return to the Magic Mile for Saturday’s Nationwide Series event. He looked forward to his return to the Granite State because it gave him the opportunity to get back to his rally car roots and defend his victory in the inaugural Global RallyCross event at NHMS last year.

“I definitely think this was our best GRC course – I mean, this was the only one last year that I won, so I am a little biased toward this course,’’ said Pastrana, who will make his second GRC start of the season Thursday at NHMS. “It had a lot of unique stuff. It had a lot of singles and table tops, a big over-and-under jump.

“We had a dirt section. We had that big first turn, which I had a little experience with jumping in the NASCAR car beforehand, so that was pretty cool.’’

The GRC course’s elevated table-top hairpin on NHMS’s pit road proved pivotal for Pastrana, who made his first ever Nationwide Series start last year at Loudon’s 1.058-mile oval and wound up finishing 31st after he was involved in an accident.

“We thought it was going to be the hardest part of the track to pass,’’ Pastrana said of his appearance in the GRC event at NHMS. “Because they had to figure out a way to make the track work so we could get over the pit wall. I’ll tell you what, that was the most excitement on the track, with cars rolling off [the elevated hairpin turn].

“It was actually where I made a pass for the lead in the qualifier and the main event, so I liked that place.’’

Pastrana knew, however, the GRC event would come as a welcome diversion from his duties as a full-time Nationwide Series driver of the No. 60 Ford Mustang fielded by Roush Fenway.

“NASCAR’s a lot of fun, for sure,’’ said Pastrana, 26, of Annapolis, Md. “But I think anyone who drives goes, ‘I want to fly. I want to jump a car on purpose.’ They don’t want it to be like, ‘Uh-oh, something’s going wrong.’ ”

Said Bayne, “If we could get it hooked up, I would love to drive in [the GRC event at NHMS]. Like Travis said, as drivers you want to drive in anything, especially if you can get a little bit of air – on purpose – and not be flipping over the wall, but jumping over it would be better.’’

In his conversion from a motocross X Games champion to a stock car driver, Pastrana has had to learn a few hard lessons. Among them: the best way to make a stock car go fast is to keep the tires glued to the track, meaning any hang time is not optimal.

“The cool thing about him is that he learns quick,’’ said Bayne, whose first career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory came in the 2011 Daytona 500 driving the No. 21 Purolator Ford for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team. “It would get frustrating for us if we were telling him to do something and he never did it.

“But we want to keep contributing because he picks it up and he learns,’’ Bayne said. “I remember our first test at Nashville, the first couple of laps he was a couple of 10ths off and he got better all day.’’

When Pastrana unloaded for the test session at NHMS, Bayne said, “We were running like the same lap time. So he’s taken that information and he’s getting better every week and you’ve seen the progress.’’

Currently ranked 14th in the Nationwide Series points, Pastrana recorded something of a breakthrough in April when he won the pole for the Nationwide Series carburetor-restricted plate race at Talladega, Ala., no small feat.

He followed up by qualifying second-fastest in last Friday’s Nationwide race at Daytona, but he wound up 34th after he was collected in a six-car accident in Turn 4 with five laps remaining in the 100-lap race.

“I’m definitely learning a lot every weekend,’’ Pastrana said. “You know what’s the funniest thing? I come from rally and motocross and the track changes all the time. Here, you can do 600 miles and hit each corner once and think, ‘This is going to be simple.’ But I’ll tell you what, every track changes so much.

“The difference between the cloud cover coming in, the cloud cover coming out, if it’s hot, if it’s a little bit cooler, the track changes and your line changes, so everything changes.’’

Adjusting on the fly to changing track conditions has given Pastrana a newfound respect for his stock car brethren.

“Everybody gives NASCAR guys a hard time, especially action sports guys, because they say, ‘Aw, all you do is turn left,’ ” Pastrana said. “But these are the best drivers in the world – bar none. I’ve been blown away on the road courses, I’ve been blown away on the go karts. These guys drive everything.

“When you have that many great guys working together on that many great teams, to find that extra half a 10th, that extra little bit that puts you on the next level, is really difficult.’’

And Pastrana would love nothing more than to be counted among NASCAR’s fraternal order of stock car drivers, taking the first step by seeking the advice of five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on the best career path to take to the Sprint Cup Series.

But Pastrana admitted it has been a painstaking process getting acclimated to the nuances of NASCAR racing.

“You know, it’s been very tough,’’ Pastrana said with a sigh. “It’s been discouraging at times and encouraging at times. But everybody in the industry has been nothing but supportive. I believe we’re getting there. I believe we can do it.

“I think every driver believes he can be the best, but we’re putting ourselves in a position to be the best. It’s not going to be overnight, but we’re working on it.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.
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