Raikkonen and Busch to part ways?
27 May 2011
When Kimi Raikkonen announced that he was going to try his hand at NASCAR, it seemed only right that he would pair with Kyle Busch Motorsports: who else but the Wild Thing would dare something as audacious as teaming up with the Iceman to bring a former F1 world champion to the States?
But despite a solid début with the team in the Truck Series race at Charlotte last week that saw him finish in 15th place and on the lead lap, plus KBM arranging an alliance with Joe Nemechek's NEMCO Motorsports to put Kimi in a Nationwide car this weekend, it seems that the budding alliance between Busch and Raikkonen may already have run its course.
The original plan had suggested up to five Truck races with KBM this year, with Raikkonen investing a chunk of his own change into the endeavour as well as bringing some big name, high value personal sponsors with him. But according to Busch, the money's not coming through as planned.
"What's changed is the payment schedule," Busch said. "The contract states we're supposed to receive so much, and we have not. We've only received enough for these two races.
"It's either up to Kimi or to the financial people that run Kimi's business side of things and decide they need to find the sponsorship funds in order to carry the experience for him further."
Rather than a lack of money, it's probably more a case of Kimi having to decide exactly what he wants to do next. Five Truck races might have seemed like a grand plan back when he started his Great American Adventure back in March, but now staying in trucks seems a little ... dull, especially to a former world champion who just wants to have some fun.
If Kimi decided he'd rather race in Nationwide - let alone Sprint Cup - instead of "wasting his time" down in Trucks, then he would have immediately outgrown KBM. Busch's team is an exclusively Truck Series operation at present, although it had eyes on expanding into Nationwide in due course - perhaps via tracking a more measured career progression for Raikkonen
For that reason, extending himself to put Raikkonen into Joe Nemechek's #87 in the Nationwide Series just about fitted Busch's plans, albeit at a stretch. What doesn't fit in at all is Raikkonen eyeing up a Sprint Cup ride.
"It would be nice to go and do it, but I don't know if it's going to happen or not," said Raikkonen, talking about the possibility of running the June 26 Sprint Cup Sonoma road race.
"As far as the Sonoma race, we've had no discussions about Cup stuff at all," said Busch, succinctly. "As far as I know, this weekend is the last hoorah with Kimi unless he wants to come back to do further races in NASCAR."
Raikkonen tried out a Sprint Cup ride on Tuesday on the road course at Virginia International Roadway commonly used by Sprint Cup drivers to repare for Sonoma events. Kimi got the loan of the Robby Gordon Motorsports #7 for the day, but it did not go well.
"Obviously it's what our goal was, to have a good test and see how it went," Gordon said. "Unfortunately, the test went bad." Raikkonen ran off road and severely damaged the nose of the car, resulting in an estimated two weeks' worth of damage. "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."
Did the experience sour Kimi's taste for further NASCAR adventures? Despite the cost and inconvenience for Robby Gordon, he's still open to taking discussions with Raikkonen further, if the Finn is so inclined: "That doesn't mean we wouldn't do it still," said Gordon.
Raikkonen certainly has no shortage of opportunities in NASCAR if he wants to take them up. His initial hook-up with Kyle Busch has given him an entrée into the NASCAR scene and set him up with connections with Nemechek and Robby Gordon if he wants to pursue them. His track outings even caught the eye of the NASCAR man of the moment, Carl Edwards, who was on track for Raikkonen's Nationwide practice session début
"Who is that in the #87?" he enquired over the radio, suddenly aware of an unfamiliar driving style. "He was driving the wheels off it ... Then I saw Perky Jerky on it. He definitely has some car control for sure. That's not lip service."
So the doors to NASCAR are open - or at least ajar - for Kimi Raikkonen; but perhaps NASCAR isn't falling over itself to usher him in to quite the extent that Kimi hoped and expected? Or perhaps it's just not proving as much fun as he hoped it would be.
Either way, Kimi Raikkonen will return to Europe next week to consider his next move - whether to carry on the appearances with (and payments to) Kyle Busch Motorsports for some more Truck outings, or more likely whether to pursue something in Sprint Cup or Nationwide. Or maybe, nothing at all; maybe the land of the Perky Jerky just isn't to his taste after all.
Raikkonen's US manager Todd Hirschfeld put it best and most accurately earlier this week, when he said: "This is the truth: Kimi does what Kimi wants to do."