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IRWINDALE, Calif. -- Travis Pastrana has been the center of attention plenty of times before.
As an extreme sports icon in the pop culture realm, with a show on MTV, an X-Games resume that trumps most any other and a viral internet following for his adrenaline-pumping feats of daring, Pastrana already has a bigger fan following than any other driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series garage at Toyota Speedway.
But in the wake of motocross legend Ricky Carmichael and the heralded Danica Patrick still having the jury out when it comes to their forays into stock-car racing, Pastrana will be closely watched by NASCAR observers.
He's making his K&N Pro Series debut for Pastrana Waltrip Racing this weekend in the Toyota All-Star Showdown -- with crew chief Mike Greci, who led Ryan Truex to the last two K&N Pro Series East championships.
"I'm really excited," Pastrana said after posting the seventh-fastest time in final practice on Friday. "The crew's just been awesome. I've been talking to (Camping World Truck Series driver and California native) Matt Crafton, who has a lot of time around this track. We don't really know where we're going to sit, but to be seventh in the second practice was just way above where we expected to be.
"I don't know what everyone else had expected."
Pastrana plans to compete in seven Nationwide Series events in 2011 and a host of K&N Pro Series races with the No. 99 team. Though he's tested extensively during this offseason, the Showdown is his first stock-car race event of any kind.
"I was just happy to be out there and not be a road block for everybody," Pastrana said. "We've got a lot to learn and a long way to go.
"I feel really comfortable. Pretty much the first drive in the car, it felt good. I've always driven everything -- just around the back of the house. My dad had a construction company, so I tried every type of car and all kinds of things, just sliding around there. But it's a big difference just feeling comfortable in the car and then having to race with all these guys."
Michael Waltrip, who co-owns the team with Pastrana, informed him of that at the team's very first test this winter.
"After our first test, he was like, 'Time's are pretty good. But guess what? So are the other 42 guys you're going to race. They're all amazing drivers,'" Pastrana said. "It's just a matter of trying to get in there and earn some respect, not hit too many people, not hit too many walls. I think just to finish this thing would be a big plus."
Pastrana qualified 20th on Friday afternoon, but he said he won't stop his goals at just finishing -- though it is the primary objective.
"Every driver here thinks they can win, or thinks they can do something, or they wouldn't be here," he said. "That's just competitive nature. But, having said that, for me, if I can finish this race, that would be a definite success.
"If not, we'll learn from what we've got."
ANOTHER SHOT: Sean Caisse still wakes up in cold sweats over the way this race ended for him in 2007.
That year, driving for Andy Santerre Motorsports as a full-time K&N Pro Series East driver, Caisse was leading the field and threatening to run away and hide en route to a Victory Lane trip.
"Moses Smith wrecked me while I was lapping him when I was leading that race -- and I still wake up with a headache in the morning sometimes from that," said Caisse, who is driving the No. 9 Sunrise Ford this weekend, a fixture on the K&N Pro Series West.
He thinks that this year may present yet another opportunity to win at Toyota Speedway after qualifying third.
"I think we have just as good of a chance, but the competition has really jumped up quite a bit," Caisse said. "But I have more experience -- running some Nationwide, (some) Truck races and some ARCA races. So I think what I've learned in the past couple years, I can apply."
The chassis he's in this weekend comes with some pedigree, too. It helped carry Jason Bowles to the 2009 K&N West championship and has won here in Irwindale.
"The equipment I have is (among) the best equipment here. The No. 1 think I've learned is you're only as good as your equipment," said Caisse, of Pelham, N.H. "I've driven some junk and gone really slow, and I've driven some fast cars and gone fast. So I think we have just as good a chance as anybody."
But, much like it did in 2007, winning the Showdown requires more than just good equipment.
"It's going to be a free for all, I think, at the end of this thing" Caisse said. "You've got to put yourself in position. The guy that's leading with two or three to go, may win it -- or he may not. You can go four or five-wide here, and I've been in the middle of all of that."
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: Derek Thorn laughed, and then he repeated the question with amusement.
"'Who's Derek Thorn? I like that one," Thorn said moments after winning the Coors Light Pole Award. "California's so big, northern California might as well have its own zip code, and southern California might as well have its own zip code there, too.
"I don't think anyone from southern California knows who I am."
Thorn competes full-time on the SLR Southwest Tour, which he plans to do again this season. In 2008, the 24-year-old Thorn ran a handful of races on the K&N Pro Series East while living in Wisconsin, with a career-best finish of fifth at Music City Motorsports Complex.
"We always qualified really well, but we never really ran that great," Thorn said. "We had some decent finishes, but not enough to get on the map. This series is so tough to even get noticed with the other competitiors and the competition you've got to race against."
Thorn finished third in the SRL Southwest Tour last year, and he purchased a K&N Pro Series car from Vision Airlines -- which competed with driver Justin Johnson in the K&N West finale at Phoenix back in November
"Derek Thorn ... Hopefully, I'm starting to get some recognition here," Thorn said. "We had a really good year least year on the Southwest Tour. Hopefully, this puts me on the map and I start to get some recognition."
ONE LAST CHANCE: For Dale Quarterley, the Last-Chance Open was, in fact, a last chance.
Quarterley's last-minute decision to compete at the Showdown this weekend left his team scrambling -- both to make it to the track for the event, and also to prepare for the race once practice started.
"We built this car in three weeks and we didn't quite get it done. We needed three and a half weeks," Quarterley said. "When we got here, (the car) wouldn't start. We wasted most of practice trying to fix it. I think we went six or seven laps in practice."
He qualified poorly during time trials, but things finally started to turn Quarterley's way once the green flag dropped on the 50-lap Open.
"We got down into the first turn, and they all just seemed to stop," he said of the competition after starting third. "I went up the center and got the lead, and we just cruised from there. We just went fast enough to get to the end."
Quarterley, a veteran both of the K&N Pro Series and this event, however, knows it won't work like that in the Showdown.
"Tomorrow it'll be four or five abreast for most of the race," he said. "You won't be able to just cruise like we did tonight. It will be full-on or go home."
FIRST-TIMER: Another driver who won't be headed home after Friday's qualifying at Toyota Speedway is 16-year-old, Exeter, Calif., native Cole Cabrera. Cabrera finished sixth in the Open to claim the final spot in the Showdown.
"It's really exciting. It's my first K&N race," Cabrera said. "I can't wait to race tomorrow. It should be a lot of fun."
One thing Cabrera learned, however, had nothing to do with tire pressures on night-time chassis setups on the half-mile.
"I think one of the biggest things I learned was that my seat was so off in that car," Cabrera said with a wide grin. "I don't know how it will make 225 (laps) tomorrow, so we'll make some adjustments for that. Definitely for the race, we know a lot about the car and what we need to do to make it last for 225 laps tomorrow."
French stock-car champion Lucas Lasserre also qualified for Saturday's Showdown with his fifth-place run in the Open. Friday was his first experience on an oval.