Kimi R??ikk??nen’s NASCAR Trucks debut up close

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Kimi R??ikk??nen, NASCAR truck, Charlotte Superspeedway, 2011

Lewis Hamilton had his first taste of NASCAR at Watkins Glen last week.

But his former rival Kimi R??ikk??nen has taken things a step further, starting a couple of races in NASCAR’s junior categories.

Jamey Price was at Charlotte Superspeedway last month to watch R??ikk??nen’s first race in a NASCAR Truck.

I have long been a Kimi R??ikk??nen fan. It?s no secret that the Iceman is notoriously self absorbed, quiet and rarely cracks a smile in anyone?s direction.

Much to my surprise, that Kimi Raikkonen that we all know from his Formula One years seems to have been pushed aside and in his place seems a genuinely humble, smiling and even an engaging character.

I was contracted to cover R??ikk??nen?s first attempt at NASCAR Truck racing at Charlotte Motorspeedway on May 20th as a photographer.

It was a first for me as well in that despite being born and raised in Charlotte North Carolina, I had never covered a NASCAR race at any level. I?ve been to a few, but never been paid to cover one with credentials.

My job was to cover R??ikk??nen?s every waking move from morning until night which made my job easier in that my eyes needed to be focused on only one man instead of covering the race as a whole.

Perky Jerky

Kimi R??ikk??nen, NASCAR truck, Charlotte Superspeedway, 2011

After setting up in the media room and getting all the camera gear dialled-in and lenses all cleaned up, I walked toward the garage area where his crew were feverishly cleaning his car before the first practice session.

R??ikk??nen arrived in the garage after attending the rookie driver meeting and set about preparing himself to get in the car. They cranked up the engine and off he went to run his first laps of practice. It was immediately clear that he was off the pace and reports from the garage were that the car was ‘loose’ – oversteering.

I was standing on pit road shooting looking toward the start/finish line and lap after lap I noticed that cars he had been running with the previous time around were pulling away from him.

He came back to the garage spoke with the crew chief and made some changes to the car and went back out. You could tell he was frustrated with how the car was handling. He finished the first session 30th of 38 drivers with a time of 31.265s.

Second practice was not much better for the world champion. I had relocated to shoot from the outside wall at the exit of turn four where the cars come straight at you at around 300kph (almost 190mph).

Having never photographed NASCAR before, I can tell you it was quite exhilarating sitting inches away from the wall as the trucks roared past. I made some nice images of Kimi pushing the car around the turn and onto the front straight but there was little he could do to make an impression in the time sheets. He finished 30th again with a best time of 31.471s.

30th again

Kimi R??ikk??nen, NASCAR truck, Charlotte Superspeedway, 2011

As the drivers readied for qualifying later in the day, I took advantage of the Sprint Cup practice to find some new vantage points to shoot R??ikk??nen?s qualifying run. I liked the angle from the bottom of turn four shooting up the track.

Not having a radio scanner or any way of knowing where R??ikk??nen would be in the randomly drawn qualifying order, I was more or less forced to shoot every truck as they qualified waiting to see the black and orange #15 Perky Jerky car that R??ikk??nen was driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

When he finally appeared, I snapped as many as I could and tried to capture as many different angles and styles as one can shoot with two laps and one lens. R??ikk??nen?s magic number for the day seemed to be 30th, since again he landed towards the back of the field posting the slowest lap time of his day.

I took advantage of the down-time between qualifying and the race to send some of the images off while waiting for the pre-race activities to begin. Raikkonen and the other truck drivers were introduced in front of the crowd about an hour before the race began

While wandering around looking for interesting things to shoot, I happened to glance up and see R??ikk??nen having a light hearted pre-race chat with former Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jnr.

The two seemed to be engaged and genuinely happy to see each other. Who knows what they were talking about but it was a short-lived conversation because it was time to introduce the world champion to the crowd.

Raikkonen?s name was called and he walked onto the stage with shades and Red Bull cap on his head, gave a quick wave and walked back toward the car which was sitting on pit road with his crew.

“Who’s that?” “Some Formula 1 champion…”

Kimi R??ikk??nen, NASCAR truck, Charlotte Superspeedway, 2011

I am quite certain that NASCAR Truck racing has never had so much media attention. I remember very distinctly standing in the scrum with all the other media trying to get some interesting photos of R??ikk??nen before the race when I heard another truck driver walk by with a woman beside him.

She asked “what the heck is going on here?” The driver replied “It?s some Formula 1 world champion who’s trying NASCAR out for fun.”

I?m sure R??ikk??nen is used to the media, but many of the truck drivers live in relative obscurity and apart from their small contingent of fans, would never have a gaggle of photographers, TV crews and journalists all pushing and shoving to capture them before a race. This was a new experience for all involved.

Since I had a spot picked out on the start finish stretch about 300 yards down from the finish line, I had to leave the pit activities early and head toward my spot before they closed the track down and made it harder to get around.

Shooting wide open at f2.8 on a 300mm lens on a Nikon D3s, I shot the start of the race. R??ikk??nen got shuffled to the back early on. He was clearly uncomfortable with running in such a tight pack but as anyone who saw the race can attest, he quickly picked up his game.

I think I can speak for R??ikk??nen when I say we will both remember the race not for the racing itself, but for the number of cautions. It was absurd. There seemed to be a new incident every five minutes. It made for very frustrating work and very dull racing.

After shooting the first 50 laps, I walked back toward the pit lane to try and get one of the pit stops. After missing his first stop due to a miscommunication, I wasn?t sure how many chances I would get but I did manage to get one of his stops.

The rest of the race, I photographed his push through the field from the pit wall near his crew. He had definitely picked up the groove and was able to push a bit harder and actually look a bit like a racing driver again. I saw him pull some daring manoeuvres and was genuinely pleased that he finished the race a solid 15th.

Though his practice pace had been slow, he had been able to make the most of his racing ability and had certainly made an impression on the NASCAR community. It appears he will be running in the NASCAR Nationwide race this coming Friday and recently tested a Sprint Cup car in Virginia. Perhaps R??ikk??nen really is thinking of a permanent move to stock car racing. In any event, I was pleased his race ended well and that he appeared to enjoy the experience. I know I did.

Thanks to Sutton Images, Charlotte Motorspeedway and the photographers on site who made it a very enjoyable day in welcoming myself and R??ikk??nen to the NASCAR community with open arms.

This is a guest article by Jamey Price. Jamey is a sports photojournalist whose work has been published in a range of sporting publications worldwide. More of his photos can be found at www.jameypricephoto.com.

If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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Images ?? Jamey Price

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59 comments on Kimi R??ikk??nen’s NASCAR Trucks debut up close

  1. bosyber said on 21st June 2011, 8:58

    Nice article, and great photos, given the suspect. I don’t think I will be following NASCAR, trucks or otherwise, any time soon, but if I would be in the US, I wouldn’t mind going to a race or two for the atmosphere.

  2. Joakim Järvinen said on 21st June 2011, 11:16

    uh, this article would have been nice one month ago..

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st June 2011, 11:38

      What a miserable piece of ingratitude. It’s not as if I’m charging you for it, is it?

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 21st June 2011, 12:22

      Actually having the NASCAR/F1 swap the other day makes it perfectly timed for me.

      And even if not, you don’t have to read it, nor comment on it.

      • Jamey Price said on 21st June 2011, 13:59

        Actually, the article was written a month ago, but Keith has been a busy man and this is when he decided to slot it into the website. Maybe he should charge YOU for it.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 22nd June 2011, 8:00

          I guess that was targetted at Joakim! I fully agree with you

          Thanks for the great write up Jamey. Really nice to see and hear more about how Kimi was doing there.

  3. asif said on 21st June 2011, 11:42

    ferrari threw out the wrong driver at the end of 09 i mean what has massa done so far he hasent even won one race yet

  4. xabregas said on 21st June 2011, 12:48

    Great article
    I saw both kimi´s and hamilton´s experiences in nascar and one thing stands, they enjoyed it very much.
    Hopefully Kimi will try again since he was competitive from the beginning, didn´t took long to see him in the middle of the pack and trying to go forward,
    Everybody knows that Hamilton will stay in F1 for a long period of time but if there is an F1 driver that i would like to see in nascar, for sure hamilton is the one.

  5. Veronica said on 21st June 2011, 12:48

    Nice artice! :-)

    Charlotte speedway is definitively not the best place to make your Nascar debut, but Kimi made it work. One thing that personally impressed me the most about Kimi’s debut was his restarts. He didn’t lose too much places on the restarts and he almost immediately learned how to overtake others at the restarts. It is one thing that all of the single seater racers who have entered Nascar have struggled with. Kimi is the first one I have seen who hasn’t struggled with this. I think he could do really well in Nascar, but I doubt he will move to the states and do Nascar on a permanent basis. It was surprising to see how well Kimi blended in with the atmosphere and he was well received, this exercise was definitely a PR win.

    As for WRC, it is complicated to explain to others or to understand how difficult WRC can be if you don’t really follow it. This season WRC has been more competitive then it has been in quite a while. Kimi is just gaining experience all of the time, he has had a bit of bad luck with punctures for example – he has had a puncture in every single rally so far this year. But he is really doing well this year, he is definitely holding his own, especially for someone with his level of experience. Autosprint has just listed him as the 6th best driver this year, just one step behind the big five. It will be interesting to see what Kimi can do in the upcoming tarmac rounds, and also next season. Overall it has been a good year for him.

  6. Veronica said on 21st June 2011, 13:03

    Oh yeah I forgot to add another thing that really stood out and impressed a lot of people in Nascar, was Kimi’s unbelievable car control. His car was incredibly loose all of the time but somehow he managed to hanged on to it, it is always fun to actually see the drivers really working the car. The best story was properly when Carl Edwards came on the radio, and he didn’t know Kimi was driving in front of him, he asked over the radio who was driving in front of him because that person has incredible car control.

    • ManjuBoy (@manjuboy) said on 22nd June 2011, 2:20

      I live in the States and have always been a big Kimi fan. I watched his practices and race at Charlotte and remember in one shot you could see the back end of his truck wiggling all over the place while entering a turn at around 170+mph. I was frightened that he would lose it, but he controlled it well without losing speed. Very impressive.

  7. Joshy said on 21st June 2011, 13:28

    Didn’t Hakkinen call it “Finnish Car Control”?

  8. Ben said on 21st June 2011, 23:12

    I wish Kimi would come back to F1. Simple.

  9. Rahim.RG (@rahim-rg) said on 22nd June 2011, 4:32

    Pretty Good article…As a Kimi Fan you’ve made my day….Never got to read too many good things about Kimi here when he was in Formula 1…He’s an incredible driver…He’s done pretty well in WRC this week too..7th is not too bad considering he was driving Nascar a week before Acropolis…

  10. I think Kimi and Kyle would make good F1 team mates…

  11. andersson said on 29th June 2011, 17:22

    It’s incorrect to state that Kimi didn’t smile much in F1.

    You just didn’t bother to look, I guess… He smiled a lot!

    And guess what – he is much more talkative when he speaks in his native language. You are missing out a lot if you only hear (and understand!) his English. I think I can easily do better than Kimi in English interviews and I have much less experience from such situations compared to him. His English is not good and you should take this into notice when you are judging how talkative he is. He is *severely* limited in how expressive he can be when he uses English instead of Finnish.

    I’ve seen other native English speakers do this same mistake about Kimi too. They don’t really seem to get his personality. But Finnish people understand him well. I think you may be trying to match him to your culture and when he doesn’t fit, you think there is something wrong with him, when it’s in fact your unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding of cultural differences. Live a few years in Finland and you’ll begin to understand his seemingly quiet way to go about his business in F1 much, much better, I guarantee.

    In such more formal situations, such as in a press conference, Finns are more likely to let the current speaker speak, and they are listening (listening is important, or is it not?). Whilst for example an American or Spanish or French person can make a lot of noise on top of the speaker – this is not the norm in Finland. Here we (think we) respect the speaker and let him or her finish. That’s the norm. Obviously with exceptions, but generally that’s a big difference to the more outspoken cultures. It’s not that we don’t speak a lot, we are just waiting for the right moment to say something that has some meaning instead of blabbering all the time with not much to say.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2011, 17:52

      we are just waiting for the right moment to say something that has some meaning

      I’m still waiting for Raikkonen to say something that has some meaning..

      Sorry, cheap shot, couldn’t resist :-)

      • Daniel said on 1st July 2011, 22:23

        Actually I think you’re still waiting to get his autograph after he didn’t stay and wait for you and broke your heart.

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