“Stay low, Kimi, stay low stay low! Ok, good you are clear.” I can imagine Kimi Raikkonens spotter was having his hands full on Kimis very eventful NASCAR truck race debut. A record 10 cautions were thrown due to incidents, spins and crashes and Kimi managed to dodge every one of them. Even while being in the midst of the action for most of the race. They may be trucks but they are whizzing by at over 300 kph for most of the 1,5 mile or 2,24 km oval track in Charlotte, North Carolina.
My mind was blown only a few weeks ago when I learned that Kimi wanted to try his hand at Nascar. This guy surprises everyone. Even his most loyal followers. And it didnt take long for all of motorsport media to dive down hard on the story. This time it included media channels in the U.S. as well. And sure enough, Kimi was partnering up with star driver Kyle Busch and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team along with main sponsor Perky Jerky. A great match to be honest as Kyle is known as a bit of a rebel and he has a good car. The date set for his first race was the 20th of May on the Charlotte racetrack. The interest for this event has been huge and its another example of the “Raikkonen effect”.
Between then and the race, he had tests on 2 separate tracks as this was completely new territory for Kimi. So many things are different in this series that I dont know where to begin. Luckily I have been following the NASCAR Sprint Cup for a couple of years. So I am pretty familiar with the pit stops, cautions, on-track rubbings and more. For most Kimi fans it would be a crash course come May the 20th.
As it turned out, Kimi impressed greatly in his first test. He went out some laps to get familiarized and eventually learned all the basic ropes. At the end of the day, Kimi ran identical times to Busch who is one of the biggest talents in NASCAR. Very promising. And they were starting to notice it “over there”: http://youtu.be/YuNIozokLDk
Raceday finally rolled around and Kimi had an extremely actionpacked day. I say day, because practice, qualifying and the race all takes place on the same day. However, Kimi had all kinds of trouble in practice. It was not nearly as smooth as the tests. The car had so much oversteer (or loose as they say) that he almost lost it. Check it out here as the commentators are pretty amazed he was able to save it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61ykoCdzVPg
I guess rally experience is quite handy sometimes 😉
Come qualifying a couple of hours later and the car was in better shape but still not the way it should be. Kyle Busch expressed concerns and hoped Kimi wouldnt be turned off by the experience. Eventually Kimi qualified in 31st and was ready for the race. He wanted to be higher of course, but the race is where the experience was needed the most. The feel of someone going by you at almost 300 kph gives what they call “sidedraft” and it can really pull at a car. I have seen plenty of crashes due to cars losing control just over that. And Kimi had the steepest learning curve to climb. After literally only a few hours behind the wheel of the Perky Jerky truck, he was now going head to head with the best in the series. Watch his qualifying laps here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LoeBeGCu6Q
The cars line up double file and are ready to go racing as the green flag flies. Great start for Kimi as he even gains a place. But there was to be a lot of incidents. After one of the first cautions all the cars flood into the pitlane for new tires and fuel. But Kimi stays out – and not on purpose. There was so much radio chatter that Kimi missed a message and thereby the pitlane entrance. He finds himself in 9th position among the top runners. A lot of them with new tires on.
Restart and Kimi holds his own. Even battles for position until his tires start to go and he inevitably drops back. He is about to pit under green which is a huge disadvantage because every one else is racing full speed. Just as he is about to dive in on lap 51, they scream to him on the radio: “Stay out, stay out! Caution!” It was teammate Kyle Busch that lost the car and had spun out on the track. Due to this, Kimi could pit under yellow along with most of the field and still emerge out in a good position.
From then on he pretty much stayed midfield and had some great battles as he was both passed and also managed to pass some cars himself. His biggest problem as it turned out, was the number of cautions thrown with great regularity as cars spun out and crashed frequently. The reason for that is that the tires on the truck need about 5 laps before the tire pressure comes up and the grip and confidence is there. Just as that started to happen, a caution came out. The final laps saw a longer run towards the chequered flag and we saw Kimi first being passed by the 22 car and at the end of the race he had repassed him when the tires got the pressure up.
A last lap incident where Nelson Piquet Jr spun out gave Kimi 15th place and thus he became the highest finishing non-US driver in the race. Well done Kimbo! The commentators on Speed were very impressed and gave him an A+ rating on his first race. He didnt go a lap down and he didnt crash. But instead got his wings on a very tough track. Now he is already racing in the nationwide series next weekend! Its a step up from the trucks. Here is the story on that: http://bit.ly/j6ttUO
For me the race was extremely exciting. It got pretty wild sometimes and Kimi had a few near misses and a few slides that he caught like a boss. Seeing this race made me realize how much I had missed watching Kimi race wheel to wheel. I for one hope to see a lot more of it even if he is adamant that rally still is his main focus.
Here is a nice little recap from the race:
The best thing is that Kimi had fun:
Anyway. Go Kimi go!!!
I guess I will be seeing y’all next week.
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