Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images via NASCAR

Räikkönen: NASCAR Cup Debut at Watkins Glen a ‘Nice Challenge’

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Former F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen has accomplished much during his career overseas, but this weekend, he heads into uncharted waters as he makes his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Watkins Glen.

The 21-time F1 grand prix winner and 2007 world champion will pilot the Trackhouse Racing “PROJECT91” car, with a short test day and Saturday’s limited track time under his belt when the green flag flies on the Go Bowling at The Glen.

Despite not having much time behind the wheel of a Next Gen car, Räikkönen is ready for what lies ahead over the course of the day on the 2.45-mile road course.

“It’s a new experience,” Räikkönen said. “I don’t know how it’s going to go, but I think it’s just a nice challenge. Like we said already, we’ve had limited running of the car and we’ll have a very short practice here, so that will be tricky. It’ll be quite a challenge, but it’s also exciting. We’ll see where we stack up. There are very fast guys here that have been doing this for years, so it will be very hard. But we’ll see what we can do.”

Even if the day doesn’t go his way on Sunday, the 42-year old Finnish-born driver is not worried about the result tarnishing his legacy, noting he’s in this for the experience and to have fun – even giving a nod to team owner Justin Marks for giving him the opportunity to give the Cup Series a chance.

“I don’t see any risk.. why not? What do I have to lose? If I do bad in a NASCAR race or bad in any race, I don’t care,” he said. “I do it for myself. A good or bad end result, it could happen even if I did 20 races. They all could be bad for many different reasons.

“I don’t see any negative. I think it’s great what Justin (Marks) and the team is doing giving a chance for all of us from Europe. It’s not as known.. obviously over the years, NASCAR is more known there, but I’m sure there are a lot of drivers that would like to have a chance to try it. It’s not very easy, so maybe it will open some doors in the future for more chances to try and get more Europeans into the sport.”

When the green flag flies on Sunday, Räikkönen will have his work cut out for him, starting deep in the field in 27th. In the abbreviated practice session that took place before qualifying, he timed in 20th fastest.

“Obviously, I wish there would have been more laps,” Räikkönen said afterwards. “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 yeah, 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.”

So, how does Räikkönen expect Sunday will play out for him and the No. 91 team?

“I have no idea yet,” he said. “There are too many things, too many options. I think we just have to make sure that we know, more or less, the rules and not make any silly mistakes on that side. We’ll see what we can do with the car. We have a little bit of an idea from where we started, to where we went and maybe somewhere halfway.

“We’ll try to improve. We improved from the practice session to qualifying, and we’ll try to do the same in the race.”

The 90-lap Go Bowling at The Glen is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on USA Network.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.