Kimi Raikkonen makes NASCAR debut
CONCORD, N.C. -- Kimi Raikkonen struggled so badly in his first few hours at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the former Formula One champion didn't expect much from his NASCAR debut.
He slapped the wall on the second lap Friday night in the Trucks Series race, wasn't sure of the rules for passing on his first restart, and missed a call into the pits from his crew. But Raikkonen still managed a 15th-place finish.
"You'd rather be more high up," he said of his finish. "But I think how it felt this morning, and qualifying, I am pretty pleased how it was in a race. For sure, there is still a lot to learn and improve."
Where and when he'll continue his learning process remains to be seen.
The Finn has not announced any more races, but alluded earlier Friday to next week's Nationwide Series event at Charlotte and later getting into the elite Sprint Cup Series. Asked directly after the Trucks race if he'll be in the Nationwide race next week, Raikkonen would not commit.
"We'll see," he said.
But something Raikkonen said a minute later was more telling when asked what he thought about Friday's schedule -- the Trucks practiced, qualified and raced all in one day.
"It's a lot shorter for sure," Raikkonen said. "It's quite far away to come from Europe."
There's no point in Raikkonen continuing in the Trucks if he's got any real interest in NASCAR. The natural progression would be a race or two in Nationwide before trying to get into some Cup events.
But Raikkonen said he's not yet been in a stock car, and his only experience before Friday was two test sessions in a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck. Busch, winner of Friday night's race, admitted after that he's got a car at his shop and details could be announced soon on a Raikkonen race.
Raikkonen spent nine years in Formula One, driving for Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari. He totaled 18 wins, 62 podium finishes and won the 2007 championship.
He's currently racing for the World Rally Car Championship with his own team, ICE 1 Racing, and is ranked eighth in the overall standings. He's not scheduled to compete again in that series until next month in Greece.
Busch, who spent time tutoring Raikkonen between Friday's practice sessions, went on to win the race and played a part in Raikkonen's finish. Because Raikkonen missed the first call into the pits, he was going to have to make his stop under green.
But a spin by Busch, while Busch was leading, brought out the caution and allowed Raikkonen to pit under yellow. Busch said he was unaware of Raikkonen's situation.
"You'll say I'm lying anyway," he smiled.
Busch kind of did that earlier Friday when he said Raikkonen could not race for KBM next week because his team was not licensed in the Nationwide Series. Asked again after Friday night's race, he admitted there's a car at his shop.
"I didn't lie," he insisted. "I don't own the car."
Busch wouldn't say he owns the car, but said it isn't listed to Joe Gibbs Racing, his wife or his parents.
The race was marred by 10 cautions, which Raikkonen said slowed his rhythm. Busch also regretted how it affected a race that had international interest.
"I hate the way it looked with it broadcast in so many countries for Kimi's debut," Busch said.
The pairing of Busch and Raikkonen happened in March, when an agent called officials at KBM to see if it could field a truck for someone else this season. The agent would not reveal the driver, so KBM officials could do nothing more than go over the costs that would need to be covered to field another entry.
Representatives for Raikkonen called back later, revealed it was the Finn who wanted a seat, and asked for a ride at Charlotte. It took some negotiating for Busch to make Charlotte happen, but Raikkonen was in his No. 15 on Friday night.
Raikkonen offered no details in what his long-term plans will be, and indicated it's not that uncommon for him to be unsure of his plans. He said he didn't even decide to do the WRCC series until January.
"I don't have big plans. I don't have any plans for next year or anything of what I do," he said before the race. "I see how it is because I didn't have any expectations when I came here. It's a bit like when I went to rally -- I didn't have much expectation, I wanted to see how it is.
"It's the same story here. For sure, it's a different sport. Different type of racing than what we have in Europe. It's very popular here and maybe it looks easy, but it's not so easy to be fast. We'll see how it goes and what the future will bring. We go step by step and see what happens."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press