What to watch for: IndyCar at Milwaukee (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra)

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A TIRE-ING SITUATION

Milwaukee’s flat corners and constant traffic are challenging enough in themselves, but tire degradation is also going to be something drivers must watch throughout this afternoon. Track position is always critical at Milwaukee, and looking after a set of Firestones will be important in maintaining spots up front. But if there’s a late caution, don’t be surprised if most choose to hit the pits and get fresh rubber ahead of the last sprint to the checkered flag. It worked for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden in Iowa, after all.

CHAMPIONSHIP DASH TO FONTANA BEGINS

Three races. Three different types of tracks. Three weeks. It’s an ideal way to cap off what’s been another solid Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle, and this critical stretch begins today in Milwaukee. Will Power extended his lead over Helio Castroneves to five points with his pole run yesterday, but neither Team Penske driver has won before at this old oval. If one of them can change that today, it will mean a critical boost of momentum. Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay (third, -64 points) and Simon Pagenaud (fourth, -65 points) need to make sizable points gains today if they want to stay in the title picture.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING?

So far this Verizon IndyCar Series season, we’ve seen 10 different drivers claim victories: Will Power, Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, Carlos Huertas, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and our most recent victor, Scott Dixon. Should another driver step up and take a win in these final three races of the season, it will tie an open-wheel record for most winners in a single season (the 2000 and 2001 CART campaigns each had 11 different winners). And as noted this past week, there’s a lot of quality drivers that are still winless in 2014…

ANDRETTI TEAM GOES FOR MILWAUKEE TRIFECTA

Since its Andretti Sports Marketing offshoot took over operations of IndyCar’s annual visit to Milwaukee in 2012, the Andretti Autosport team has claimed back to back wins at the famous speedway with Ryan Hunter-Reay. But after a sub-par qualifying session yesterday (Marco Andretti will lead the team from ninth on the grid), they’re gonna have to work hard today in order to claim its third consecutive win in Milwaukee. As for RHR himself, he’ll have to go off from 19th on a day that could well determine if he’ll be contending for a second IndyCar title.

The road to the 2023 Daytona 500 is not paved for Travis Pastrana, he’ll attempt the DIRTcar Nationals

Pastrana DIRTcar Nationals
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.

In mid-January, it was announced Pastrana will attempt to qualify a third car from 23XI Racing that fields fulltime entries for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick. Sponsorship will come from Black Rifle Coffee, who approached him during the offseason to ask what kind of “really cool stuff” he would like to do. Pastrana replied, “the Daytona 500” with a characteristic laugh in his voice.

“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”

But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.

After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.

Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”

The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.

And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.

While Pastrana is accustomed pitching his car sideways on a combination of left and right turns in a rally car – he won the Nitro Rallycross race at ERX Motorsports Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota last October and became the first two-time winner in the 2022/23 season at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona in November – the DIRTcar Nationals will be an entirely different proposition.

It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.

“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”

Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.

Travis Pastrana will race one of Steve Arpin’s dirt modifieds during Florida Speedweeks as he prepares for the 2023 Daytona 500. – Jacy Norgaard, World Racing Group

The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.

“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”

And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.

“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.