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Raikkonen faces challenges in NASCAR

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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Kimi Raikkonen ran over 200 laps in a test for Kyle Busch Motorsports at Gresham Motorsports Park on Monday.

KBM’s general manager Rick Ren said the test was a success.

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“Things went very well today,” Ren said. “Very good driver feedback.”

Raikkonen, 31, is scheduled to make his NASCAR debut in the Camping World Truck Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20. Charlotte was chosen due to the Finn’s current World Rally Championship schedule.

Ren says the decision for KBM to test at GMP was “data-based” since Busch had accumulated data from previous Truck tests at the half-mile track.

Ren believes the experience that Raikkonen has gathered racing in a variety of series “is not a bad thing” when it comes to making the transition to NASCAR.

“With him most recently coming from rally cars is probably a lot better than just coming over from Formula One cars to be able to adapt to what we do,“ Ren said. “I think the rally cars will be a plus for what we do.

“I’ve worked with new guys before, but it was when racing wasn‘t nearly as challenging. Back when I did it the playing field had a lot more have-nots than haves. There weren’t a lot of good teams. Now, the playing field is so even, it really puts a lot of it into the driver's hands. It will be a challenge, but every situation is challenging, you just have to go into it with an open mind. I think it’s a great avenue for Kyle Busch Motorsports to be involved with a guy that’s trying to get his career started here.”

During his nine seasons in Formula One, Raikkonen won the 2007 title and 18 races. He’ll become the sixth F1 racer to make the move to stock cars including fellow champion Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Nelson Piquet Jr., Scott Speed and Narain Karthikeyan.

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Richard “Slugger” Labbe worked with Villeneuve when he first attempted the move from open wheel to NASCAR. Labbe described the experience as “tough.”

“I remember the first test we went to with Jacques and he couldn’t find reverse,” Labbe said. “We had to back him up. It’s a challenge and whoever is going to be working with him will need a lot of patience. The hard part with Kimi is, with some of these tracks, where are you going to take him to test for Charlotte? We were forced to take JV to Chicago before he went to Vegas but it’s tough with the NASCAR’s new rules to try to find a place to test that’s comparable to Charlotte. That’s going to be the challenge.”

Former Truck champ Travis Kvapil is looking forward to competing against Raikkonen at Charlotte. Kvapil believes Raikkonen will be fine “once he gets some seat time” and familiarizes himself with the vehicle.

“Charlotte is a tough track, but in the Truck series you almost run wide open,“ Kvapil said. “It’s not like you come to Martinsville or Bristol for your first race.

“I was excited when Juan Pablo came to NASCAR. I’m a motorsports fan. I love Formula One and I was a Ferrari/Kimi Raikkonen fan, so to have the opportunity to compete against one of the world’s finest drivers will be pretty cool.”

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