Known as a pure racer, the former Formula One World Champion crashed out of his NASCAR Cup debut at Watkins Glen as he became the first of (hopefully) many international drivers that strap into the No. 91 TrackHouse Racing Chevrolet.

Team owner Justin Marks started "Project 91" with Kimi in mind. The idea being to create a unique opportunity for foreign drivers to experience NASCAR Cup Series racing. The project has been months in the making. The team has spent hours, days, weeks of planning to get this thing off of the ground. Raikkonen's first race was just the beginning.

Marks believes that this program is going to benefit everyone, for years to come. "I know and have known for a long time that there is significant global interest among the elite motorsports drivers of the world in participating in a NASCAR race. It is a unique series. People in Europe and around the world look at NASCAR as this giant form of motorsports in America, and have an interest in trying that. But it’s been hard to break through. The barrier of entry has been high."

With that barrier now torn down, Raikkonen has the chance to really light a fire under this program. “At first I wasn’t really looking into this in a serious way,” Raikkonen admitted. “Obviously, we had more talks about how it would work, where the race would be and all sorts of things. It was just one race so it made sense for all of us as a family. Hopefully, I’ll have a good race and good fun [he said before crashing out]. There are new cars there and I have never been at the track and things like that, but I am sure we can figure it out quickly.”

The presence of Kimi was been the main focus the event at the Glen. Even with the battle for the final playoff spot just two weeks away from the regular season finale at Daytona, the buzz has been all about this unique program. With limited track time, Raikkonen was able to qualify the No. 91 Chevrolet in 27th position.

"Obviously, I want to have fun but also try to do as well as we can," Raikkonen said. He was asked why he wanted to try something new, before the race. "I don’t see any risk. Why not? What do I have to lose? That I‘ve done bad in a NASCAR race or bad in any race? I don’t care. I do it for myself. Good or bad result, it could happen even if I did 20 races. They all could be bad for many different races."

Even the drivers are excited about the opportunity to compete against of the world's best racers.

One of those drivers is the reigning Cup champion, Kyle Larson. "Kimi being in a really good car should be able to adapt very well," Larson said. "I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get to race against somebody like that who has strictly just basically road raced his whole life. I don’t know if there’s a Formula One Hall of Fame, but he’d probably be in someday. But, I guess, just to see how you stack up against guys like that."

Larson attended the Formula One season finale last year, when Raikkonen made his final start. "I know it’s a totally different race car, but his experience level is way more than mine on road courses. So just to see how you stack up and look at his data and see the kinds of things that a guy like that with an open-wheel background does differently behind the wheel. I think studying that stuff can make you become a better race car driver in the future."

Even established veterans like Kevin Harvick are eager to line up next to Kimi. 

“It’s pretty awesome to have Kimi in the race and be able to know how much success that he had on the Formula One side,” Harvick said. “I think what Justin Marks is doing with Kimi is unbelievable for everybody in the sport and the Project91 vehicle that they’re putting him in. I think for me, I’m really excited for everybody in the sport to be able to see how this all progresses because I think it’s great for our sport.”

Harvick believes that more young fans would really appreciate this if they knew more about the history of racing. “I think that’s probably one thing that kids don’t do a very good job with these days is they don’t pay attention to the history. It’s all about the now. I’m probably more excited about seeing Kimi on the race track than Keelan. If you say you’re an F1 fan, and you don’t know who Kimi Raikkonen is, you’re probably not paying enough attention to what’s going on.”

Another driver that is very familiar with Kimi already is Daniel Kvyat. The former Formula One driver will be making his second Cup start after making his debut last month at Indianapolis. “Everyone loves racing where I am from. Everyone likes to drive fast. In Europe, it can grow. The more F1 drivers who come to NASCAR, the more worldwide interest will grow.” That is exactly what Marks and the TrackHouse Racing organization is hoping for.

Chase Elliott, who starts today’s race from pole, believes that is the best way to grow the sport.

"That’s the only way to grow, is to try to get more eyes on the sport. When you have someone who is a World Champion like Kimi come over, I’m really curious to see what he has to say. He might come over thinking it’s the biggest joke ever. He might come over here and do really good, or he might come over and struggle. All those outcomes could potentially sway his opinion. But as a driver and fan of what we have going on here, I think it’s really cool that he’s here."

While Marks has said that this will be the only race for the No. 91 entry this season, there are sure to be more candidates vying for this seat in select races next year. He elaborated on the future plans for this program in a press conference yesterday.

"This is really our opportunity to build this program. See how it impacts the operations of the company to field a part-time third car. We haven’t hired one additional person for this project. There’s just been a lot of people at TrackHouse that have been doing time-and-a-half to get this going."

"This is a program that operates at all of the road courses during the season and then potentially some of the major events, like the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, or something like that. I think for Project 91, it’s a six to eight race program potentially next year and beyond. It’s a brand extension of TrackHouse. That’s sort of where I’d like to see it go.”

One of those drivers next year could be four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. The IMSA Sportscar champion and SRX race winner has been trying to secure a Cup ride, possibly at Daytona.

“What I’ve told Helio, and what I’ve told most of the people I’ve talked to, is that I can’t really have any meaningful discussions about what the future of Project 91 looks like until we get through Watkins Glen,” Marks said. "This was an idea that I had and just threw it at the team, and now I'm learning about how much work it is. So every day, it helps me figure out what the strategy moving forward is."

Marks may not know exactly what the future looks like right now, but it is certainly bright.

Chris Buescher is one of the drivers fighting for a playoff spot, and knows that Kimi is not here as a publicity stunt. He is a competitor, and will have to beat him on Sunday if he wants to win. “There’s just a little bit of hesitancy when you get around cars that you don’t know. Part-time drivers in our sport, they usually come around enough that we know who they are and what they’re like. That makes it a little bit different when we head into a race like this, where we’ve got first-timers. But at the same time, it feels wrong to put rookie stripes on some of the names.”

Kurt Busch did not race in Kimi's debut as he continues to miss races while he recovers from his concussion-like symptoms. As someone who has done a crossover himself (2014 Indianapolis 500) Busch knows what Raikkonen is putting himself through. "I think he’s going to do well. He’ll make an incredible impression with our sport. His professionalism and what he brings from the F1 world and all he’s done in his career will be a nice refreshing boost for some of the guys to be looking at and some of the guys to race against."

Another former Formula One driver in a similar boat is Romain Grosjean. Now in his second season in IndyCar, the veteran said: "I’m sure he’s going to have a warm welcome from the drivers. He’s a world champion and had an incredible career. And the guys know that it’s a pretty good driver they get to compete against."

One of Kimi's teammates is Daniel Suarez. The driver from Mexico spent some time in the simulator with Raikkonen last week.

"It was good," Suarez said of the experience. "I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from him, because obviously he’s an amazing race car driver. But I believe that a race car driver that is great is not just because he’s good at driving. It’s everything else around it. I’ve been very, very impressed with him. He’s not here just to have fun, but he’s here to do well. So it’s been a lot of fun to work with him the last few days, and I’m really looking forward to see what he can do."

Despite crashing out of his first race, everyone is looking forward to seeing what Kimi can eventually do. The eyes of the motorsports world will be focused on him, which is exactly what Marks envisioned, and what the series needs.