Kimi Raikkonen says he wants to explore NASCAR and go step by step, and that his plans for future outings beyond next week have yet to be set.
The 2007 Formula 1 World Champion, who makes his NASCAR debut on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has already had his first collective outing on the track driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in official practice for the Camping World Truck Series event. The Finn finished 30th in the two scheduled sessions, scraping the wall during the second one as he continued to gain speed and get acquainted with a track he is only visiting for the first time, having tested previously at smaller venues with lower cornering speeds.
Raikkonen says his main motivation to race in NASCAR is exploring an opportunity he was offered and one that fits into his current limited World Rally Championship schedule.
"It's many different reasons for that," said Raikkonen. "Since I stopped in Formula 1, my interest has always been in many different motorsports. I want to try different things and this isn't the first time I've been offered to come here but, in the end, I've had a good time now to come and see how it is and learn, try to get better really. That's the only reason that I came. I was interested to see how it is, how it feels and how racing in NASCAR is."
The former Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari racer believes his rally experience is definitely helping him as he tries to quickly adapt to the heavier stock cars. He admits his first runs at Charlotte have not been as good as he would like but pointed out that it is still very early into his NASCAR foray.
"From Formula 1 to rally was a big, big difference," said Raikkonen. "From the rally coming here it's not such a difficult thing. I'm still learning, haven't driven much and it's only my first time here.
"It hasn't been a very good day, but anyway we have to start somewhere and improve. Hopefully in the qualifying and the race we can be a bit better but, of course, there's a lot of things to learn in what you want from the car. OK, the circuits look quite similar here but they're not. You have to learn all the best things in every circuit and the best lines, but that purely comes with the knowledge and experience. We try to survive through the day, try to do the best that we can and hopefully we're smarter after that."
Former McLaren teammate Juan Pablo Montoya visited Raikkonen in the pits while he was practicing, offering help and talking to both the Finn and crew chief Rick Ren. Raikkonen says it was no surprise for him to see drivers being more open and relaxed than in F1, similar to his experience in the WRC.
"The whole feeling in NASCAR comparing to many other sports is different," said the Finn. "OK, comparing to Formula 1 is definitely more relaxed, more open here but rally is also much more open, this is more like that, pretty similar. For sure in Formula 1 things are a slightly different way but that's how they want to do it.
"It was nice to see [Montoya], I haven't seen him for a long time. I've seen some results from what he has done but it's not very easy to follow well in Europe. It's not often that you see it on TV."
Raikkonen expects his first NASCAR race to be a totally new experience as it will be the first time he will be on the track racing others since he last competed in F1 in the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Following practice and ahead of his NASCAR race debut, Raikkonen's team owner and fellow racer Kyle Busch has somewhat lowered the bar for the Finn's maiden outing in the Truck Series. He expects him to complete the distance and get some stock car race experience under his belt.
"Expectations for Kimi tonight are pretty simple really," said Busch. "It's just trying to get him to run all the laps, trying to get him to gain some experience, get out there with some other trucks, try to drive the truck a little harder, get a feel for it, feel the loose, the tight, but just to try to get him to feel that in traffic and kind of race around some other guys, see if he can make his way forward and essentially try to complete all the laps and get experience."
Following Raikkonen's stock car debut he is expected to announce plans for his next outing, which may come next week at the same track but in the Nationwide Series, a step up the NASCAR ladder from the Truck Series.
"I don't have any plans for next year in anything that I do," said Raikkonen. "I'll see how it is because I didn't have any expectation when I came here [to NASCAR]. It's a bit like when I went to rallying – for sure it's a different sport and different racing than what we have in Europe, but it's very popular here.
"I had the plan to do rally this year so this [NASCAR] is really when I have time... If I completely suck here, probably there's no reason to come back, so hopefully it goes better than today. I don't know yet. We go day by day and see how it goes. What comes in the future, it comes."
Raikkonen was emphatic in saying he has not closed the door completely on a possible return to F1.
"There were many reasons why I stopped [in F1]," said Raikkonen. "I always said that I don't know if it's going to be forever or not but after that I wasn't really missing Formula 1. I wanted to try other things and I had a perfect opportunity to go and do rally and learn that and now I have time to come here and see how NASCAR is.
"I'm happy how things are now, but I never really have said that I'm never going to go back [to F1]. Maybe I will never go, maybe I'll go – but only the future will tell.