By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Talent On Display
The Finnish driver drove into the top-20 in the first Stage of the Go Bowling at The Glen. In the wet conditions, Räikkönen shined. It was just the third time in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present), that the Cup Series had raced in the rain, and the first for the Gen 7 (Next Gen) Cup car. Räikkönen’s experience allowed him, as well as Mike Rockenfeller and Loris Hezemans, to brave the treacherous conditions After finishing the first Stage inside the top-20, the 42-year-old stayed on track.
Restarting inside the top-10, Räikkönen battled with defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Chris Buescher. The No. 91 Recogni / iLOQ Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 threw big blocks on past NASCAR champions Elliott and Larson. The moves were reminiscent of a NASCAR veteran.
“It was good fun,” admitted Räikkönen. “Had more confidence all the time, had some good battles. It’s a shame. The car felt like it had a lot of speed. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
The speed on Räikkönen’s car was no surprise. The former Formula 1 driver was in the same car that his Trackhouse teammate, Daniel Suarez, won in at Sonoma Raceway several weeks ago. Both of Trackhouse’s full-time drivers, Suarez and Ross Chastain, have earned wins this year. Chastain won at Circuit of the Americas, the site of the Formula One champion’s last win, and Talladega Superspeedway. Räikkönen showed off his speed in practice, ending it in 20th, just 1-second off of eventual race winner Larson.
An Early End
However, the race ended abruptly for Räikkönen in the final Stage of the race. Austin Dillon spun to driver’s right in the inner loop after contact from Chastain. The field shifted left to avoid Dillon. In the chaos, Hezemans hip checked Räikkönen. The wheel-to-wheel contact with the No. 27 Hezeberg Ford Mustang sent the No. 91 skidding into the tire wall.
Though both hits were relatively small, the damage was enough that it ended Räikkönen’s day. As the PROJECT91 car is not full-time, the option to retire the car, which will likely re-enter rotation for Trackhouse’s full-time drivers after repairs at the team shop, was chosen.
“I wasn’t really involved (in start of the accident),” explained Räikkönen. “Thought I had a very good line there on the left. I had no time to react unfortunately. The impact was small. The first impact someone hit the tire and the wheel spun, something wrong with the racecar (after the impacts). That’s no good.”
Räikkönen’s start at Watkins Glen International is the only scheduled start for the PROJECT91 car this season. Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks plans for the car to make at least six starts next year. The PROJECT91 car’s aim is to introduce world class international drivers, and their fans, to NASCAR.
As to whether Räikkönen will return to the PROJECT91 car for another start, he was unsure.
“We’ll have to see, I don’t know,” stated Räikkönen.
"It was good fun."
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 21, 2022
With his NASCAR Cup Series start, Räikkönen became the latest former Formula One driver to compete in Cup competition, joining a list of over 20 drivers. That list includes champions like Jim Clark, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve, and more.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.