Former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen made his NASCAR debut Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, taking the wheel of the No. 15 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Running 30th in both practice sessions, Raikkonen was unhappy with the day's progress but knew there would be a major learning curve in NASCAR.
“Since I stopped in Formula 1, my interests have always been in many different motorsports,” Raikkonen said. “I want to try different things and this wasn’t the first time that I have been offered to come here. I had a good time to come and see how it is and learn and try to get better in it. That’s really the only reason that I came. I was interested to see how it is and how it feels and how it is racing in NASCAR.”
Making his debut this weekend in Charlotte, Raikkonen said he had no further plans set in place, but hopes to get a chance to run some Sprint Cup Series races if all goes well.
“I don’t have big plans – I don’t have any plans for next year or anything of what I do,” he said. “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 (cars) – 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.”
Friday’s practice sessions reinforced that sentiment, as he struggled to find a handle on the No. 15 truck.
“Wasn’t very good day, but we have to start from somewhere,” Raikkonen said. “Improve hopefully in qualifying and in the race we can do a bit better. Of course there’s a lot of things to know what you want from the car. It looks quite similar, the circuits here, but it’s not. You have to learn all the best things on every circuit and what you can do and the best lines. That really comes with the knowledge and experience. We try to survive through the day and try to do the best that we can and hopefully we are much more smarter and we know more things after that.
“I hoped to have a little bit more during the practice, but the handling of the car was not what I wanted and at the end it was a bit better. I’m still not happy, but it would be nice to still have some more practice. It is what it is and it will be interesting to see how it goes in the race because that is really the first time now that you have some cars beside you and you can go and overtake some guys. It is a different thing once we go all together in the start and the first laps. We have to learn it and hopefully it goes smoothly.”
Throughout the days two practice sessions, Raikkonen was able to talk things over with team owner Kyle Busch between track time.
“Expectations for Kimi tonight are pretty simple,” Busch said. “Just try to get him to run all the laps, try to get him to gain some experience, get him out there around some other trucks. Try to drive the truck a little harder and get a feel for it. Feel the loose, feel the tight. Apparently we’ve already given him both of those, but to be able to get him to feel that in traffic and race around some other guys and see if he can’t make his way forward. Essentially, just try to complete all the laps and get experience.”
Running rally cars in Europe, Raikkonen is making NASCAR attempts as it fits into his schedule.
“I have always planned to do the rally this year so this is really when I have time, but the NASCAR I wanted to see how it is, how it feels, how I do here,” he said. “So I mean if I completely suck here, there’s probably no reason to come back, but hopefully it goes better than today. I mean, I don’t know yet. Like I said, we go day-by-day and see how it goes and what comes in the future it comes. Like I said, I have no plans for next year so it’s too early to think about it.”
Indicating his plans are to run this weekend and next weekend, Raikonnen left the door open for a Nationwide Series start as the Camping World Truck Series has the weekend off. Busch said his team would be unable to field Raikkonen in the Nationwide Series race next week as his team does not have a Nationwide license and his crew members are not licensed to work in the Nationwide Series, “so it would have to be with somebody else.”