Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Kimi Raikkonen embracing challenge in NASCAR Cup debut

Michael McDowell's tire carrier Brett Sanchelli draws his strength from his sister Courtney, who was left a quadriplegic after an accident during their childhood.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen welcomes the challenge with his NASCAR Cup debut Sunday at Watkins Glen International, even though his limited time in the car makes the effort ripe to not meet fan expectations for a driver of his standing.

“I don’t see any risk,” said Raikkonen, who won 21 Formula One races in 19 seasons between 2001-21. “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 end result, that could happen even if I did 20 races. They all could be bad and for many different reasons. I don’t see any negative.”

Raikkonen, who qualified 27th in the 39-car field, admits he doesn’t know how he’ll do in Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET on USA), but calls this “a nice challenge.

“Obviously, we are limited running on the car and also a little bit of short practice and then qualifying,” he said. “It’s quite a challenge, but it’s also exciting. We’ll see where we stack up.”

Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks isn’t sure what to expect, but he notes “the preparation is going to be there.” Raikkonen has been paired with an experienced road crew, led by crew chief Darian Grubb. The road crew, according to the team, has 284 years of combined professional racing experience.

Another factor for Raikkonen is that the Trackhouse Racing cars have been fast on road courses. Ross Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas, and Daniel Suarez won at Sonoma.

“If we do a good job for him as a team,” Marks said of Raikkonen, “I think that we can have a very good day.”

Raikkonen’s appearance completes a task he started in May 2011 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He ran in a Camping World Truck Series race, placing 15th, and the Xfinity race, finishing 27th.

The goal was to run a Cup race at some point but plans changed and Raikkonen never did. With NASCAR switching to the Next Gen car this season and all teams being equal, it was a more inviting prospect — especially after Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks went to Switzerland to talk to Raikkonen about this effort.

Raikkonen said Saturday that there are “absolutely no plans to do anything after this.”

Raikkonen will drive the No. 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, a team called Project 91 and intended to allow drivers from other disciplines to compete in NASCAR.

This will be the only race this season for the Project 91 car, but Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks said the effort could “potentially” run six to eight races next season.

“It’s great what Justin and the team are doing, giving a chance to to come,” Raikkonen said. “I’m sure there are a lot of drivers who would like to have a chance to drive but it’s not very easy. Maybe it will open some doors in the future and there’s more of a chance to try to get more Europeans.”

Raikkonen’s appearance makes it two former F1 drivers in the field. Daniil Kvyat, who ran there from 2014-2020.

“It works in a funny way sometimes, how things can work out,” said Kvyat, who qualified 36th. “I know his passion for NASCAR from many years ago. I actually followed his (NASCAR) debut and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, Kimi likes it and it might be a good thing.’”

Others are enjoying Raikkonen’s presence. Ryan Blaney is a fan. He met with the media after Raikkonen. When Blaney approached the stage, he asked the media which seat Raikkonen had sat in and then chose that seat.

“It is a special seat. I might take it with me,” Blaney quipped.

He said he has been looking forward to seeing Raikkonen since the announcement earlier this year.

“I was a big fan of his as a kid and enjoyed watching him race,” Blaney said. “His demeanor is very awesome and hilarious. I love watching his interviews and things like that.”

William Byron said he also grew up watching Raikkonen and is glad to see him in the field. He had yet to meet him Saturday but had a plan to do before Sunday’s race.

“I guess at driver intros I could,” Byron said. “I’m sure he’ll have a line of people trying to talk to him.”