Kimi Raikkonen will make his NASCAR Nationwide Series bow in this coming weekend's Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it has been confirmed – as the former F1 World Champion has again evoked the notion of an eventual return to the grand prix grid.
After finishing a respectable 15th from 31st on his Camping World Truck Series debut for Kyle Busch Motorsports in last Friday night's North Carolina Education Lottery 200 around the same 1.5-mile Charlotte oval – a race won by team-mate Kyle Busch, and in which Raikkonen twice swiped the wall and endured a pit miscommunication – the Finn had been elusively non-committal about the likelihood of him graduating to Nationwide competition just a week later, conceding only that 'we'll see'.
The publication of the Top Gear 300 entry list, however, has blown the 18-time grand prix-winner's cover, naming him as the driver of the #87 NEMCO Motorsports Toyota owned by Joe Nemechek, who has done a deal with Busch, whose own team is not in possession of a Nationwide licence. As to what the future holds beyond that, however, the 'Ice Man' is characteristically vague, save to admit that competing in some Sprint Cup races – NASCAR's uppermost tier – 'would be nice'.
“I don't have big plans,” he is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
. “I don't have any plans for next year or anything of what I do. I'll see how it is, because I didn't have any expectations when I came here. It's a bit like when I went to rallying – I didn't have much expectation, I wanted to see how it is.
“It's the same story here. For sure, it's a different sport, a different type of racing than what we have in Europe. It's very popular here and maybe it looks easy, but it's not so easy to be fast. I'll try to do my best and we'll see how it goes and what the future will bring. There's not an awful lot of planning to be done, and I really don't want to hurry the situation. We go step-by-step and see what happens.
“If I completely suck here, there's probably no reason to come back. I mean, I don't know yet. Like I said, we go day-by-day and see how it goes, and what comes in the future, comes. Like I said, at the moment, I have no plans for next year, so it's too early to think about it.”
Erstwhile McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Juan-Pablo Montoya has opined that in order to truly succeed across the Pond, Raikkonen needs to relocate there lock, stock and barrel, but that would engender a long-term NASCAR commitment – and judging by his recent admissions, it would seem that despite persistent denials, the 31-year-old is still not entirely convinced that he has fully turned his back on an F1 career that began back in 2001.
“Currently, I don't miss F1,” he is quoted as saying by The Examiner
, having walked away from the top flight when he was prematurely released by Ferrari at the end of 2009. “I wanted to do different things and now have had a great opportunity to try NASCAR. I haven't said I will never go back to F1.”