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Kimi Raikkonen runs in Nationwide practice

26 May 2011

Ever since his successful début in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last week, Kimi Raikkonen has been teasing everyone with a "will he, won't he" try Nationwide this weekend. Finally, on Thursday morning, the time for a definite answer came.

In truth there wasn't really much doubt at this point, and in a six minute press appearance Kimi appeared, decked out in his black Perky Jerky T-shirt and shorts and his backwards-facing Red Bull baseball cap, to confirm exactly what everyone was expecting

"The Nationwide: we are here, so what's the most easiest thing to get more experience?" he said. "It was the easiest thing for me to do."

Nationwide will be a totally new deal for Kimi. As in, totally new. He's never tried running in one, even under test conditions, compared to the three test days he'd had in a NASCAR Truck prior to taking to the track for the first practice sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon.

The 80 minute sessions went well for the Finn, with the #87 finishing practice 1 in 16th position, and following that up with 18th in the later session. (See full practice times and positions here.)

Raikkonen's run attracted the attention of Sprint Cup championship leader Carl Edwards: ""Who is that in the 87? ... He is loose," Edwards said. "He was driving the wheels off it. I was just surprised. I didn't know who was in that car. Had no clue. Then I saw Perky Jerky on it. He definitely has some car control for sure. That's not lip service."

Raikkonen's hoping that at least having had a basic introduction to how a NASCAR meet goes, together with some knowledge of the track - Charlotte being the venue for both last week's Truck race and this week's Nationwide event - will compensate.

"At least I know the circuit and how the weekend goes," he said, sounding somewhat confident, adding that other drivers had told him that there was "not an awful difference" between Trucks and Nationwide cars.

That would probably make the 2010 Nationwide Series champion champion choke if he'd been in the room to hear it.

"Charlotte's probably the last place I'd pick to make my Nationwide début," said Brad Keselowski, saying that he thought the Finn should run a dozen or more Truck races before even considering the move up. "It sounds cheesy, but the number one thing is to make sure you run all the laps ... There's no substitute for track time."

Given that total lack of testing experience in the hardware, it's impossible to think that this won't likely be a truncated appearance in the Nationwide race on Saturday at 2.30pm local time, unless Kimi is very lucky - or very, very good.

In the interval between his Truck Series début six days ago and today's Nationwide bow, Kimi occupied himself with a Sprint Cup car test on a road course at Virginia International Roadway - where it seems he only managed about 20 laps before running off and badly damaging the nose of the Robby Gordon Motorsports #7 that he was borrowing for the day.

"I went out and just ran a bit wide and I decided to go in the grass, but unfortunately there was a big hole in the grass and it destroyed the front a bit," he said, in what sounded like an oddly similar accident to that which wrecked the race-winning car of Carl Edwards at Charlotte last week following the All-Star event.

"That was the car that finished second last year at Sonoma. So that was our primary. We've got our work cut out for us," said Robby Gordon when he saw the damage to his car, estimating the repair time at two weeks.

In the end, the accident didn't put him off deciding to try Nationwide this weekend, although it may be giving him pause for thought before committing to a Sprint Cup appearance even if it were to be on a road course, his forté.

"It would be nice to go and do [Infineon Raceway at Sonoma] but I don't know if it's going to happen or not," he said. "We'll see what happens this weekend. I have to go back and do my [WRC] rally stuff, and we'll see."

Raikkonen goes Nationwide: the story so far

The move up to the middle series was teased by Raikkonen during the press activity surrounding his Truck début at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in which he finished a very creditable 15th place and on the lead lap after grappling with a loose truck early on. When asked whether he would be trying Nationwide, Kimi had said "We'll see".

His team owner, Kyle Busch, had danced around the question by telling reporters "We don't have a Nationwide Series license [at Kyle Busch Motorsports], and our crew guys aren't licensed for the Nationwide Series or anything," Busch said. "It would have to be with somebody else."

But Kyle had been found out when reporters spotted what looked suspiciously like a Nationwide car sitting in the KBM garage. "I don't own it," Busch said. "You'll find out next week," he'd added.

And so we did, when it was revealed to be a loaner from Joe Nemechek's NEMCO Motorsports who would supply the car (which KBM would assemble), the back up, the transporter, the crew (supplemented with KBM's own) - and most importantly, the owner points for the #87 that guaranteed entry without Raikkonen needing to qualify.

It all seemed set, and Kimi Raikkonen's name duly appeared on the official entry list as the driver of the #87 for this weekend's Top Gear 300 race at Charlotte. The only thing that wasn't confirmed, it seemed, was the driver - at least according to to Todd Hirschfeld, Kimi's US-series manager. "There's a car and team ready to go, but Kimi himself has not yet committed," he had said on Tuesday. "It's up to Kimi whether he ... heads back to Finland or stays to run the Nationwide race Saturday at Charlotte."

Kimi seemed to enjoy stringing the world's media along for a few days more, but when it got to Thursday morning the moment of truth had finally come and he had to decide whether to face the pre-event press conference and and confirm he was running or not.

Turned out he was.


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