Is Kimi Raikkonen coming to NASCAR? Autosport and Racer Magazine are quoting a story from Turun Sanomat that says Kimi will be running in the Camping World Truck series in a team called ICE1 Racing (same name as his WRC team) which will be owned by Foster Gillett, son of disgraced former team owner George Gillett. To those of us who follow Riki Ratchmen on twitter this is not a shock; he tweeted that Kimi was coming to NASCAR a few weeks ago based on a conversation he had with a friend of Kimi. The rumor of Kimi to NASCAR has floated around ever since he lost his seat at Ferrari at the end of the 09 season, usually linked Red Bull. Nothing is confirmed on this, but quotes from Kimi’s manager on Bloomberg suggest it is a real possibility. These reports have Kimi moving to Nationwide and Cup eventually; I can’t see Kimi being content to run Trucks like Piquet Jr is.
Kimi Raikkonen is a polarizing figure in the F1 world. He’s got his supporters (me, for example) but many question his talent and commitment. Considering he won the 07 championship, and was able to win a race along side scoring podiums with a struggling Ferrari in 09 demonstrates that he has plenty of talent. I don’t really get the question of his commitment. He is disliked for not being outgoing enough with the media and thus is accused of being uncommitted. Kimi will be even more controversial in NASCAR. While he won’t be as aggressive as Montoya, he also won’t interact well with the NASCAR press and fans. A lot of people in NASCAR (fans, writers, insiders) have a less than positive view of open wheel drivers anyways, and they’re going to resent Kimi for coming in. He’s going to come across as aloof and uncaring which ruffle some feathers. NASCAR needs a villain so that’s not necessarily bad thing… and Raikkonen isn’t going to be that worried about making friends and fans.
It’s a good idea for Kimi to get experience in Trucks first, but the idea of being involved in a team owned by a Gillett is a bit disturbing. Gillett’s NASCAR team had a lot of financial issues which caused him to pull out of the series. Besides the financial problems,the way the team was run on the racing side caused them to be uncompetitive. I’m really hoping this part of the deal is untrue. It’s also not clear whether ICE1 would try and advance through the ranks with Kimi (a horrible idea for many reasons) or if he’d jump to a new team once he gets to Cup level. Kimi drives a Red Bull sponsored WRC car… and it’s worth noting, the Red Bull NASCAR team will have an opening next year in the 4 car. Hmmm… no idea where Kimi may be headed in Cup…That’s his best chance to get into NASCAR unless he can get a ride at Roush Fenway, Joe Gibbs, or Stewart Haas, and I don’t see any of those happening. Kimi will continue to run his WRC races this year and fit his NASCAR stuff around it. At Red Bull, Kimi should get along very well with Brian Vickers (read the Maxim article about Vickers for proof of that).
It’s worth noting that Red Bull in NASCAR has twice tried to develop an open wheel driver and failed both times. AJ Allmindigner had a miserable first year and a half but did see improvement towards the end of his second year. Problem was Red Bull let him go to make way for Scott Speed. Speed failed to amount to much while Allmindigner has found a stable ride at Petty and has become a fairly well regarded driver in NASCAR. Red Bull didn’t show a lot of patience for either of these drivers which means Kimi will need to perform fairly well to keep his ride should he end up with them. Many of the recent open wheel converts have struggled in NASCAR, with Montoya being the most successful. Like Montoya, Kimi is a successful F1 driver… I can see him being fairly good in NASCAR if things go right (IE: does not run with Gillett). With his experience in Rally he’s got plenty of experience driving a loose (oversteering) car. Does Kimi really want to do NASCAR? I’m not one of the people who questions his commitment, but he does enjoy his free time. NASCAR’s 38 event (36 races, 2 non points’ events) season is going to cut into that, assuming he goes full time Cup.
As an Indycar fan, I’m disappointed he didn’t choose that as his American experiment. I’ve been critical of “F1 Rejects” but Kimi’s an actual champion! It’s not surprising Kimi’s not coming to Indycar; he will want more money than any Indycar team could offer him. For Indycar fans wanting to see Raikkonen run Vegas this is good news. If Kimi is going to be spending a lot of time in the US, why not run Vegas? In the right equipment Kimi would have a shot at winning and he could be in Vegas anyways for the Truck race. Manufacturer conflicts aren’t an issue; he’s driving a Citroen in WRC and he won’t be driving one in NASCAR, so I’m pretty confident he’ll be allowed to run a Honda in Indycar. He’s by far the best F1 person out there to bring into Vegas; otherwise it’s a snitch (Piquet), a random test driver, or Villeneuve… I’d pick Kimi in a heartbeat.
I’m not going to lie; the idea of Kimi in NASCAR has me pretty excited. He’ll be fun to watch whether he’s successful or not. There’s still more to this story that has yet to break. Is Red Bull going to be involved? Is Gillett really going to run/fund Kimi’s team, or is this a mistranslation/misinterpretation? Does Kimi plan on running full time Cup in 2012, or is he going to slowly work his way up? And since he’s going to be spending more time in the US, will he attempt the Vegas 5 Million Challenge??? The Kimi to NASCAR story should be one of the most fascinating racing stories to follow this year. I’m excited, at least.