NASCAR: Raikkonen finds Nationwide tough going

The Iceman struggled to keep his cool in the car in his Nationwide series début at the Top Gear 300, faced with rising temperatures, lack of water, car damage and a speeding penalty.

Kimi Raikkonen might be known as the Iceman, but his cool evaporated pretty early on during the Saturday Top Gear 300, his introduction to the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The Finn seemed to particularly struggle with the heat and humidity of the afternoon heat in Charlotte, asking repeatedly for additional water bottles to be handed to him at pit stops and at one point sounding almost on the verge of panic when a full bottle didn’t materialise before he had to leave his pit box.

“I need my drinking bottle,” he radioed at one stop, then realised he had to crank up the demands to get some attention from the pit crew busy carrying out their pre-drilled roles. Soon after returning to the track, he was back on the radio: “I’m out of the drink again. I don’t know. It’s so small. I’m out again. [You have] to make sure it’s completely full, because it is too small.”

It didn’t help when a fumble at the pit stop meant Raikkonen got back a mostly-empty water bottle instead of a refilled one during the stop under yellow on lap 74.

The situation wasn’t improved by the heat pouring through the floor of the #87, a typical ‘feature’ of Nationwide cars. Raikkonen’s boots were from his F1 and WRC days, after Kimi had opted not to fit the heavy duty heat shields that experienced NASCAR drivers know to put in as he hadn’t found the heat an issue during last week’s Truck Series race.

He radioed his crew to say that his feet were “burning” and at one point suggested in frustration that “maybe I put my foot out the window” to cool it down. Finally he settled on “[I’ll] just try to keep my foot off the floor and hold them up.”

Not that you’d have heard many of his comments about the heat or the water situation on the telecast, since his language was – let’s just say, free-flowing. “My leg are burning inside the cockpit because it’s so f***ing hot!” was an early sample.

And the F-word was much in evidence when describing how his car was handling as the race wore on, saying that he was having real trouble turning it through the corner. “You have to make the car better. It’s unbelievable how bad it is,” he said – rather missing the point that in NASCAR, the pit crew needs accurate feedback and instructions from the driver to know how to proceed, unlike the telemetry-driven world of F1 where the engineers have an answer for the driver before he ever gets back into the pits.

For all the complaints and issues – which were pretty standard NASCAR fare really, as anyone who has ever listened to Kyle Busch rampage about his car during a race on his way to another win will know – Raikkonen was actually doing rather well, circulating in a stable 15-20th position on the lead lap

Unfortunately Kimi then got a speeding penalty after his first green flag pit stop on lap 142, which meant a drive-thru that would drop him off the lead lap.

Shortly afterwards, Raikkonen managed to run over some debris on the track (the front splitter of Jeremy Clements’ car, which had just fallen off the #51) that lodged under the front of his own car and required him to come in under green for the pit crew to wrench it out. That put him even further behind and damaged the front splitter of his own car, which meant that the car’s handling and speed was even further compromised – but at least the pit crew got the full water bottle to him this time.

By the end of the night, Raikkonen had also scrapped half the paint off the right hand side of the #87 by getting too close to the outside wall on a number of occasions. By the final laps he was clearly not trying too hard, just circulating and trying to stay out of the way, encouraged by the pit crew to simply bring it home.

“I was just driving around to finish the race … just trying to survive through the corners, and it’s not so much fun,” he admitted afterwards.

“At the beginning I thought we had a good car … I could overtake on the restarts, and it felt really good when it turned. But it turned out to be really bad, the handling. It felt I had to stop in the corner, just pushing all the time,” he said. “Over halfway the car was tight, and I hit the wall three times. Then it just didn’t work at all.”

“The front-running guys [Kyle, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick] are saying the exact same thing,” his crew chief Rick Ren agreed. “These things just do not handle very well.”

Had the whole gruelling experience put him off NASCAR for a good while to some? While it might not have been a dream start in Nationwide, most observers felt that actually he’d gone pretty well for someone who hadn’t even seen the inside of one of these cars until the previous day’s practice. He’d made it to the end, and 27th place was still two in front of his car owner Joe Nemechek who finished in 29th place after engine problems.

“Kimi did a great job,” said Rick Ren. “I call it a success. The results don’t really show how good he really did. If you look at the finishing order, guys in 10th-12th – we ran ahead of them a good lick of the day. I think it was all positive. No negatives out of it … There was no doubt he was a top 15 guy again.”

As ever, Kimi was non-committal about his NASCAR plans. “Now I’ll go back to Europe, and do a few rallies, and see what happens,” he said. “I don’t know when I will be back. I have a rally in Greece and some other rallies.”

“It’s up to him to decide if he wants to come do this again,” said Rick Ren, who is also general manager for Kyle Busch Motorsports. “Hopefully, we did our part, and it was a pleasant experience for him.” However, he added it was unlikely that KBM could or would be involved in putting together a Sprint Cup outing for Raikkonen at Sonoma, if that should be Kimi’s next step.

Earlier, Raikkonen has been at pains to address the issue that Kyle Busch had raised about payments due for his NASCAR experience.

Busch had said on Thursday that “The contract states we’re supposed to receive so much, and we have not. We’ve only received enough for these two races,” adding that “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.”

KBM supplied the vehicle and crew for Raikkonen’s Camping World Truck Series outing last week at Charlotte, and put together the deal with Joe Nemechek’s NEMCO Motorsports to put the former F1 world champion into the #87 in the Nationwide Series.

Raikkonen responded on Saturday that he was all paid up and that Busch was under a misapprehension.

“It’s a situation we paid,” Raikkonen said after qualifying on Saturday afternoon. “Who knows if we want to do more.” Referring to his WRC deal, he added: “I have other things to do.”

His US manager Todd Hirschfeld concurred: “It was taken out of context. Kimi doesn’t know what he wants to do, but everything so far has been paid for.”

For KBM, Rick Ren agreed: “Reports circulating that Kimi has not paid for the races he is running at KBM are untrue,” he said. “As Kyle indicated Thursday, we have received payments from Kimi for both last week’s truck race and today’s Nationwide Series race … When Kyle stated that the payment schedule has changed, he was referring to plans for future Truck races for Kimi at KBM.”

Kimi Raikkonen was back in his street clothes 20 minutes after the chequered flag had dropped, heading out of Charlotte and back to Europe. Whether he’ll be back anytime soon is anyone’s guess. It wouldn’t even be accurate to say “only Kimi knows”, because clearly he doesn’t yet – he needs time to let the whole thing sink in and to figure out whether this whole NASCAR scene is for him or not.

We’ll find out in due course, but whatever the decision is, it won’t be as much of a shock as it was on that late March morning when we found out that the former F1 champion was heading to NASCAR in the first place. After that, nothing can surprise us about Kimi. Can it?

Race report brief – Nationwide Top Gear 300

Matt Kenseth won the Top Gear 300 at Charlotte after holding off fellow Sprint Cup regulars Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, while Kimi Raikkonen had a gruelling introduction to Nationwide.

Returning to Nationwide for the first time in the 2011 season, Matt Kenseth – who was filling in at short notice for Trevor Bayne, who is still on medical leave – won his 26th career win in the series in the Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon.

Competing for the first time in the new generation Nationwide car, he had to pass Carl Edwards for the lead in the final five laps after Kenseth opted to pit under caution on lap 148 and Edwards elected to try and make his fuel stretch instead having stopped 11 laps earlier. Edwards finally ran dry at the finish line, but the fuel conservation approach had given Kenseth the winning edge.

In third place Kyle Busch led for a long stretch before the midpoint but couldn’t summon up the same burst of speed at the end we’ve seen from him elsewhere this week and will have to wait a while longer before managing to equal Mark Martin’s record of most wins in the series.

Kenseth’s 23-year-old Roush Fenway team mate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – who started on pole hoping to record back-to-back wins after his maiden Nationwide victory last week in Iowa – was the highest finisher among those electing to score Nationwide points, coming home in fourth place. Stenhouse makes his Sprint Cup début in the Coca Cola 600 tomorrow evening.

Kimi Raikkonen made his series début and struggled with handling for much of the night, scraped the wall on occasion and then hit debris on the track that damaged his front splitter. That ruined the car’s speed, and with a pit lane speeding penalty as well the Finn ended up four laps off the lead and in 27th place.

Race results

1. #16 Matt Kenseth Ford 200 laps Running (0pts)
2. #60 Carl Edwards Ford 200 laps Running (0pts)
3. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 200 laps Running (0pts)
4. #6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford 200 laps Running (41/1 pts)
5. #32 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 200 laps Running (39/0 pts)
6. #22 Brad Keselowski Dodge 200 laps Running (0pts)
7. #66 Steve Wallace Toyota 200 laps Running (37/0 pts)
8. #11 Brian Scott Toyota 200 laps Running (36/0 pts)
9. #88 Aric Almirola Chevrolet 200 laps Running (35/0 pts)
10. #2 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet 200 laps Running (34/0 pts)
11. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 199 laps Running (0pts)
12. #12 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge 199 laps Running (33/1 pts)
13. #31 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet 199 laps Running (32/1 pts)
14. #62 Michael Annett Toyota 199 laps Running (31/1 pts)
15. #99 Cole Whitt Toyota 199 laps Running (0pts)
16. #33 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 199 laps Running (0pts)
17. #7 Josh Wise Chevrolet 198 laps Running (27/0 pts)
18. #19 Mike Bliss Chevrolet 198 laps Running (26/0 pts)
19. #39 Danny Efland Ford 198 laps Running (25/0 pts)
20. #09 Kenny Wallace Toyota 198 laps Running (24/0 pts)
21. #38 Jason Leffler Chevrolet 197 laps Running (23/0 pts)
22. #30 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 197 laps Running (0pts)
23. #15 Timmy Hill * Ford 197 laps Running (21/0 pts)
24. #89 Morgan Shepherd Chevrolet 197 laps Running (20/0 pts)
25. #01 Mike Wallace Chevrolet 197 laps Running (19/0 pts)
26. #51 Jeremy Clements Chevrolet 196 laps Running (18/0 pts)
27. #87 Kimi Raikkonen Toyota 196 laps Running (0pts)
28. #14 Eric McClure Chevrolet 195 laps Running (16/0 pts)
29. #97 Joe Nemechek Toyota 194 laps Engine (15/0 pts)
30. #28 Derrike Cope Dodge 193 laps Running (14/0 pts)
31. #113 Jennifer Jo Cobb * Ford 191 laps Running (13/0 pts)
32. #70 Dennis Setzer Chevrolet 162 laps Electrical (12/0 pts)
33. #52 Kevin Lepage Chevrolet 112 laps Engine (11/0 pts)
34. #81 Blake Koch * Dodge 80 laps Engine (10/0 pts)
35. #141 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevrolet 71 laps Rear End (0pts)
36. #23 Robert Richardson Jr. Dodge 42 laps Accident (8/0 pts)
37. #172 John Jackson Toyota 41 laps Vibration (0pts)
38. #79 Tim Andrews Ford 24 laps Ignition (0pts)
39. #175 Carl Long Ford 15 laps Overheating (5/0 pts)
40. #174 Mike Harmon Chevrolet 10 laps Wheel Bearing (4/0 pts)
41. #49 David Green Chevrolet 6 laps Vibration (3/0 pts)
42. #104 Kelly Bires Ford 5 laps Overheating (2/0 pts)
43. #44 Jeff Green Chevrolet 4 laps Vibration (1/0 pts)

Qualifying report

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. followed up his first series win last week at Iowa with his second pole of the season this week at Charlotte, the third in his Nationwide Series career.

He held off stiff Sprint Cup-calibre opposition, with Kevin Harvick starting alongside him and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch starting on the second row just ahead of Carl Edwards.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified in 22nd in the #87 Toyota car.

1. #6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford 28.878s (Leader) 186.994mph
2. #33 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 28.901s (-0.023) 186.845mph
3. #16 Matt Kenseth Ford 29.056s (-0.178) 185.848mph
4. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 29.139s (-0.261) 185.319mph
5. #60 Carl Edwards Ford 29.151s (-0.273) 185.242mph
6. #32 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 29.163s (-0.285) 185.166mph
7. #12 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge 29.218s (-0.340) 184.818mph
8. #88 Aric Almirola Chevrolet 29.281s (-0.403) 184.420mph
9. #30 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 29.284s (-0.406) 184.401mph
10. #2 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet 29.404s (-0.526) 183.648mph
11. #20 Joey Logano Toyota 29.426s (-0.548) 183.511mph
12. #11 Brian Scott Toyota 29.432s (-0.554) 183.474mph
13. #22 Brad Keselowski Dodge 29.434s (-0.556) 183.461mph
14. #99 Cole Whitt Toyota 29.435s (-0.557) 183.455mph
15. #31 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet 29.455s (-0.577) 183.331mph
16. #66 Steve Wallace Toyota 29.468s (-0.590) 183.250mph
17. #38 Jason Leffler Chevrolet 29.512s (-0.634) 182.976mph
18. #62 Michael Annett Toyota 29.603s (-0.725) 182.414mph
19. #97 Joe Nemechek Toyota 29.737s (-0.859) 181.592mph
20. #7 Josh Wise Chevrolet 29.778s (-0.900) 181.342mph
21. #09 Kenny Wallace Toyota 29.841s (-0.963) 180.959mph
22. #87 Kimi Raikkonen Toyota 29.896s (-1.018) 180.626mph
23. #51 Jeremy Clements Chevrolet 29.947s (-1.069) 180.319mph
24. #01 Mike Wallace Chevrolet 29.988s (-1.110) 180.072mph
25. #19 Mike Bliss Chevrolet 30.023s (-1.145) 179.862mph
26. #79 Tim Andrews Ford 30.331s (-1.453) 178.036mph
27. #81 Blake Koch* Dodge 30.379s (-1.501) 177.754mph
28. #104 Kelly Bires Ford 30.382s (-1.504) 177.737mph
29. #141 Jeffrey Earnhardt Chevrolet 30.438s (-1.560) 177.410mph
30. #52 Kevin Lepage Chevrolet 30.479s (-1.601) 177.171mph
31. #172 John Jackson Toyota 30.521s (-1.643) 176.927mph
32. #28 Derrike Cope Dodge 30.527s (-1.649) 176.893mph
33. #15 Timmy Hill* Ford 30.563s (-1.685) 176.684mph
34. #14 Eric McClure Chevrolet 30.618s (-1.740) 176.367mph
35. #44 Jeff Green Chevrolet 30.623s (-1.745) 176.338mph
36. #70 Dennis Setzer Chevrolet 30.655s (-1.777) 176.154mph
37. #175 Carl Long Ford 30.699s (-1.821) 175.902mph
38. #174 Mike Harmon Chevrolet 30.714s (-1.836) 175.816mph
39. #39 Danny Efland Ford 30.781s (-1.903) 175.433mph
40. #113 Jennifer Jo Cobb* Ford 30.826s (-1.948) 175.177mph
41. #89 Morgan Shepherd Chevrolet 30.839s (-1.961) 175.103mph
42. #23 Robert Richardson Jr.+ Dodge 32.381s (-3.503) 166.764mph
43. #49 David Green Chevrolet (Champion’s Provisional)

Did Not Qualify

44. #146 Chase Miller Chevrolet 30.851s (-1.973) 175.035mph
45. #40 Charles Lewandoski* Chevrolet 30.877s (-1.999) 174.887mph


    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: