Raikkonen solid in debut NASCAR race
Kimi Raikkonen finished a respectable 15th in his NASCAR Camping World Series debut Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After the former Formula One champion qualified 31st, his first stock Truck race appearance, at times, seemed like an exercise out of "NASCAR for Dummies."
Although team owner Kyle Busch won the race, Friday evening was about surviving for Raikkonen.
“The racing was fun,” Raikkonen said. “Too many cautions. Every time I would feel like the car would start to run better then you would have a caution, and then it would take the track a long time before the handling comes back.”
Overall, crew chief Rick Ren thought Raikkonen’s first experience “went well.”
“I can’t believe that he’s not pleased coming out of here 15th,” Ren said. “’Cause I’m pleased for him . . . but I can’t wait to see the right side of the truck.”
While Raikkonen, 31, damaged only his own truck when making contact with the wall throughout the course of the 134-lap race, he avoided contact with fellow competitors. But watching three former NASCAR champions spin in front of him caused Raikkonen to remark to the crew over the radio: “There’s too many accidents.“
The Truck rookie made his share of mistakes as well, starting with missing the entrance to pit road on Lap 22 when the leaders came to pit. His blunder turned out to be a bonus, however, as he was able to vault from the back of the pack to sixth on the restart on Lap 25.
By Lap 50, Raikkonen drifted back to 12th on old tires. Two laps later, when Busch lost control of his truck in Turn 4 and went for a spin to ignite a caution, Raikkonen was able to come down pit road for tires and fuel. Busch, who was third before the spin, miraculously came through the incident unscathed.
When the race restarted on Lap 59, Raikkonen lined up 16th. Ten laps later, spotter Mike Swaim Jr. radioed, “You’re doing a real nice, careful job.”
Following a multi-car wreck on Lap 76, Raikkonen entered the pits 15th and exited in the 17th position. Over the radio the driver sounded perplexed, not quite grasping how he had lost spots on pit road. Ren, who earlier in the day had to explain where reverse was in the truck, delicately tried to explain to the racer that some teams elected to pit for fuel only while other teams also took two tires.
Before the drivers restarted on Lap 82, Ren added to Raikkonen’s to-do list “save fuel” with the team‘s objective to run final 52 laps without another pit stop.
"We're going all the way," Raikkonen asked.
“You have a little bit better fuel now than the start of the race,” Ren explained. “The car is full, same as the beginning.”
After Raikkonen rolled off 15th, Ren told his driver, “We need a long green run so you can show what you got. You’re doing really good.”
Raikkonen fluctuated between 14th and 17th in the closing laps. On Lap 104, Raikkonen reported, “I hit the wall quite hard, I was too tight.” When the record-tying 10th caution came two laps later, Raikkonen told his team, “Hopefully I didn’t damage it too bad because I hit quite hard, the wall.” He added that the force of the hit knocked the air hose from his helmet to which Ren replied, “Good job finding it and hooking it back up yourself.”
As Raikkonen grew more comfortable behind the wheel on Lap 127, Swaim suggested he get under the rear bumper of the No. 22 truck of Joey Coulter. “Make him loose so you can drive under him,” Swaim said. Raikkonen completed the pass and rode out the remainder of the race in 15th position.
When the race ended, Ren directed Raikkonen to, “follow the other trucks down pit road, and I’ll point you where to go.”
After the race, Ren acknowledge the team was talking over each other on the radio which was why Raikkonen missed the first round of pit stops. Originally, the team had three hours set aside to work on pit stops with the driver, but his travel schedule changed — which also cut into the time Raikkonen was expected to spend at the NASCAR Research and Development Center.
With the temperatures dropping from practice earlier in the day, the tires didn’t react the way the drivers had hoped, but Ren complimented Raikkonen’s ability to not “spin the tires on restarts” throughout the night.
“You can only think of so many scenarios,” Ren said and admitted he forgot to tell the driver about the “lucky dog” procedure. “There just a lot that goes on.”
For Raikkonen, it was a learning experience.
“It would be much easier once you do one race because you learn from restarts as to where you should go and stuff like that,” Raikkonen said. “It’s just more to know what to do on the restarts and where to put the car. Sometimes you push a bit too hard and you run wide and you lose a lot of places. Really knowing where you want to be in the right position, but not really anything surprisingly difficult.
“It was actually more fun than what I had expected of the racing.”
When Raikkonen was asked whether he would compete in next Saturday's Nationwide Seris race, he replied, "We'll see."