Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen approached his NASCAR Cup debut with the same composure that became his trademark throughout his career, and he quickly adapted to the series on Sunday at Watkins Glen International, even blocking regular season champion Chase Elliott at one point. moment during the 90-round Go Bowling at The Glen.
“I thought he did a great job,” Elliott said. “He sat there in the middle of the mess and looked like he was at home, so I thought that was really cool.”
When entering the event, Raikkonen was realistic. He knew he could have both a bad day and a good day and he lived both on the 2.45 mile course before a wreck sidelined him after 44 laps.
“I don’t know what happened in front of the car,” Raikkonen said calmly after leaving the hospital. “I had a good line there. They all pushed in a bit. I kept (my) tight line. When they told me someone was spinning in front of the cars, everyone came to the left and hit me on the side. I couldn’t have done anything.
“The first blow to my car made the steering wheel turn in my hands. Something went wrong in the wrist, but I’ll fix it when I get home. It’s part of the game.”
Raikkonen — the first driver in Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 program designed to bring international drivers to the NASCAR Cup Series — qualified his Chevrolet in 27th place. A rainstorm that passed through the area during the race caused the cars to start on wet tires and Raikkonen’s experience on a wet track paid off. It only took him four laps to crack the top 20 and by lap 10 he had maneuvered his way into the top 15. Three laps after taking 14th place, Raikkonen’s crew called him to the pit lane to change the tires to slicks, which are used in dry weather. When stage 1 ended on lap 20, Raikkonen was 19th.
When stage 2 began, Raikkonen was 10th and by lap 24 he had taken over ninth. He ran as high as eighth before a pit stop with three laps to go in Stage 2 shook him back to 28th. He restarted the final stage in 22nd, but the four-car incident on lap 45 involving Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain and Loris Hezemans ended the Finnish resident’s day.
Raikkonen said he liked “everything” about the NASCAR Cup experience, but wasn’t sure if he would consider returning for another race.
“I have nothing against it,” said 42-year-old Raikkonen. “It was all good and they were very nice and helpful. We just ended up in the wrong place.
“I thought we had a very good pace, especially after the pit stops, but maybe I was a little too hard on the tires on one of the sets.”
Still, Raikkonen’s quick adaptation showed that the Next Gen car certainly makes it easier for drivers from other series to enter the top tier of NASCAR.
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