Kimi Raikkonen’s Impressive NASCAR Debut Ends in Wall
Raikkonen’s return to racing and NASCAR Cup Series debut ended with a crash while running 25th at Watkins Glen that left the 2007 Formula 1 world champion nursing a possible wrist injury.
Raikkonen said before race that he liked NASCAR’s post-COVID trimming of practice mileage as a concept, even though it put him massively up against it on his first stock car appearance.
He previously was allowed an acclimatization test in Track house's Chevrolet at Virginia International Raceway the previous week and had learned Watkins Glen in a simulator, but then only had one practice session on Saturday that went straight into qualifying.
Given that, to be within 0.952s of the pace in his qualifying group – which translated to 27th on the 39-car grid – was impressive.
“Obviously, I wish there would have been more laps,” Raikkonen said.
“I felt like there was a lot of potential. I’m just not sure which lines to take and there weren’t enough laps to put everything together. But it was fun. It’s quite a lot like I expected after the simulator. There’s always a difference, the fine details aren’t shown in the simulator, but at least I knew the track.”
“I needed to be a bit better in a few places and in some places, I was pretty OK.”
The race start on Sunday afternoon was delayed by first lightning in the area and then the amount of standing water on the track following a heavy shower.
Drivers dropping to the back after post-qualifying component changes and early mess ahead meant Raikkonen was swiftly into the top 20 when the race began.
Raikkonen wasn’t among the first of drivers going to slicks but nor did he extend his stint on wets as far as some did in the hope of saving a pitstop later.
His tyre changes initially dropped him from the 13th place he’d risen to as others pitted right back to 31st, he ended initial stage of the race in 19th after passing 2012 champion Brad Keselowski.
The team chose to make its next pitstop late in stage two, which dropped Raikkonen back to 28th.
His team felt confident it could get to end with just one fuel-only pitstop from there and that now 25th-placed Raikkonen would be in much better shape than many of the cars around him as the next segment began, telling him he wouldn’t need to worry about fuel conservation at all so could attack those that did.
A traffic jam caused by his team-mate Ross Chastain tangling with and spinning Austin Dillon led to Raikkonen being fired into the barriers by Loris Hezemans – team-mate to another F1 veteran in Daniil Kvyat at Team Hezeborg.
Räikkönen 41, of Finland climbed out of his car and appeared fine physically. Although disappointed with the finish to what looked like a promising day, he said he was still overall happy with his debut in NASCAR’s big leagues.
“It was good fun, you know, and I felt more confident all the time and had some good battles and the car felt like it had a lot of speed in there, but that’s how it goes sometimes,’’ said Räikkönen, who officially finished 37th in the 39-car field.