Kimi Raikkonen fought through a race of attrition to finish 15th and on the lead lap in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 2007 Formula 1 World Champion started from 31st in his first oval race, after running 30th fastest in both practice sessions early in the day. Raikkonen had struggled with a loose truck and even scraped the wall during the final session where he reported improved balance on his last run.
Early in the race and while trying to make progress, he got loose in Turn 3 and ended up brushing the wall, managing to escape with little damage to the right side of his No. 15 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
The first two cautions, caused by spins from former multiple Truck Series champions Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday, helped Raikkonen make some progress although he missed entering the pits on the second one due to a miscommunication. His team chose to keep him on the track and he was able to race among the top 10, getting as high as seventh as incidents continued to make the caution wave. However, as his tires started to wear he would drop a few spots as others who pitted under the second caution were running on fresher rubber.
When he was about to pit for the first time under green he got a lucky break as his teammate Busch spun and caused another caution. Raikkonen then entered pit road with the rest of the field under yellow, getting back in sequence with the leaders.
Restarting from 14th after a trouble-free first pit stop, he continued to race among the top 15. Following his final stop for fuel and tires he rejoined in 18th as different strategies came into play.
Raikkonen then survived a second brush with the wall and a car spinning ahead of him within just a few laps in the closing stages of the race. Following some other late incidents, Raikkonen was able to move to 15th place when the checkered flag waved, achieving the goal set by Busch when he announced he was running the Finn last month.
"The racing was fun – t's a new thing but too many cautions," said Raikkonen after a race that was interrupted by 10 caution periods, most due to incidents where many of the series top drivers and veterans were involved. "Every time when you start feeling that the car is working better, then you have a caution and it takes a long time before the handling comes back.
"I hit [the wall] in the beginning and then I hit much harder, thought I had destroyed the car. It ran really well before the pit stop and once we got the heat in the tires it sent the pressures up but I think it cost a bit when I hit because we damaged the side too much. Handling was OK, but just with the longer runs we could have improved a bit, just because the car was better and better during the long runs."
Raikkonen said there was nothing surprisingly difficult about his first race, but declared he was much more at ease with his truck in the race than he had been after practice. He also enjoyed some close battles for position and survived multi-car incidents that unfolded ahead of him.
"Actually, it was more fun than I expected, the racing," said Raikkonen. "You'd rather be higher up [in the order] but considering how it felt this morning in practice I'm pretty pleased how it felt in the race. For sure there's still a lot to learn and improve but I think we didn't have any major issues, so it was OK."
Raikkonen's teammate Busch recovered from his spin to beat Sprint Cup rival Clint Bowyer to victory, claiming his fourth win out of six Truck races he has entered this season. His victory places him only three wins away from 100 victories in NASCAR.