NASCAR stars excited by Kimi Raikkonen’s Cup debut: ‘The best way to gain respect’


Chase Elliott is intrigued to watch Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, but the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion is as interested to hear the 2007 Formula One champ.

Raikkonen, a 21-time winner over a 20-year career in F1, will be trying to burnish his resume by wrestling a stock car around a road course in NASCAR’s premier series for the first time.

Elliott is hoping for another sort of positive reputational impact.

“NASCAR has a certain perception about it to the majority of the world, so anytime you have someone come immerse themselves in what it takes in the day-to-day aspect of it, the competition aspect of it, (it’s) the best way to gain appreciation,” Elliott said. “Coming to a race is a good way to do it, but to actually immerse someone who is a race car driver that can appreciate and understand the challenges of it. This is the best way for us to gain respect and appreciation. To invite and have guys from these other series across the world that have worldwide recognition and amongst our motorsport peers that overlook us.

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NASCAR AT THE GLEN: This weekend’s schedule

“That’s the only way to grow is to try to get more eyes on the sport. When you have someone who is a world champion like Kimi come over, I’m really curious to see what he has to say. He might come over thinking it’s the biggest joke ever. Or he might come over here and do really good. Or he might come over and struggle. All those outcomes could potentially sway his opinion. But as a driver and fan of what we have going on here, I think it’s really cool that he’s coming.”

Raikkonen will be among the record-breaking contingent of foreign-born drivers in a Cup Series race.

An unprecedented seven countries (Mexico, Finland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Russia and the United States) will be represented among the 39 entries Sunday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET, USA).

The field will include two drivers who were on the F1 grid together in 2020 (Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat) and a 24 Hours of Le Mans champion in Mike Rockenfeller (who will race for Spire Motorsports).

But the focus mainly will be on Raikkonen in the debut of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 Chevrolet. Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks intends Project 91 to be a draw for elite drivers from around the world to NASCAR’s marquee events (four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves has expressed interest in attempting the Daytona 500 with the Trackhouse entry).

Trackhouse’s Daniel Suarez attended Raikkonen’s test at Virginia International Raceway and was impressed by his acclimation to the Next Gen and his inquisitiveness.

“I have been trying to learn as much as I can from him because he is an amazing race car driver,” Suarez said. “But I believe a race car driver is great not just because of driving. I think it is just everything else around him – how he thinks and how open- or close-minded he or she is. And in this case he is having a great time, and he is not just here to have fun, but he is here to be a competitor and wants to do well.

“He asked a lot of questions, and he was very open-minded. A lot of people know him as being very quiet and a leave me alone kind of guy, but he is not like that at all. So, he has been learning very quickly, and he knows how to drive and he is very natural at that. … I think he is going to be fast. The speed is there, and the racing part is going to be a process.”

Raikkonen has NASCAR experience, having made May 2011 starts in Xfinity and trucks at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

But Sunday’s race will feature more pit stops as well as at least two restarts on a Cup road course, where the action notably has been chaotic in four races this season (most recently at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which features a 90-degree Turn 1 that is similar to the Glen).

“I hope he’s at least watched a couple of these races at road courses and seen what the end turns into,” Kyle Busch said.

On the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast, analyst Steve Letarte said a top-20 finish would be a success for Raikkonen, whose presence won’t be viewed with the same game-changing effect that road-course experts such as Ron Fellows and Boris Said had 15 to 20 years ago (when both regularly ran and finished in the top five of Cup races).

“It’s a great opportunity for (Raikkonen) and Trackhouse,” Denny Hamlin said. “But as far as being a contender to race for the win, I don’t think that’s a possibility. It’s just really difficult because everyone has gotten so much better (on road courses). So I think it’s a good thing for our sport to get some good publicity. But other than that, I’m not really sure that it changes the dynamic of the race too much.”

The 2.45-mile road course does have some historic advantages for an F1 veteran.

With its high-speed straights and elevation changes, Watkins Glen has the European-style feel of a natural terrain layout. The track played host to Formula One’s U.S. Grand Prix from 1961-80, crowing race winners such as Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jackie Stewart.

Elliott believes Raikkonen’s adaptation will ramp up quickly, similar to when the Hendrick Motorsports driver made his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut in 2021 in racing a prototype Cadillac sports car.

“I felt like from the first day I got in the car to where I ended the race was light years apart,” Elliott said. “And I enjoyed that progression and feeling like I was getting better. I think Kimi will do much the same. The good news that he has on his side is the speed is so much slower than what he’s typically used to seeing things. Anytime you come into a different arena, and you’re able to slow things down from a visual perspective, I think you’re in a great position to have success.

“It’s way slow compared to what he’s typically used to seeing visually and entering corners and approaching some of these turns, so I think that is on his side in a big way. And I think because things will be a little slower for him, I think he’s going to have a good opportunity to learn because of that.

“I think it’s a much different discipline than what he’s used to doing, and it might take a try or two, but I do think he’s a good enough talent that he could figure it out over the course of time. I think it’s a great initiative to get worldwide, known drivers to come and be part of NASCAR and put them in a competitive car like that is a really big deal.”

Truck starting lineup at WWT Raceway: Ty Majeski wins pole


Ty Majeski will lead the Craftsman Truck starting lineup to the green flag Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway after winning the pole Friday night.

Majeski claimed his fourth career series pole and first of the season with a lap of 138.168 mph around the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Truck starting lineup at WWT Raceway

Ben Rhodes, who won last week at Charlotte, qualified second with a lap of 137.771 mph. He was followed by Christian Eckes (137.716 mph), Carson Hocevar (137.057) and Stewart Friesen (137.007).

The series races at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Saturday Portland Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


There have been different winners in each of the last nine Xfinity Series races this season. Will the streak continue Saturday at Portland International Raceway?

Those nine different winners have been: Sammy Smith (Phoenix), Austin Hill (Atlanta), AJ Allmendinger (Circuit of the Americas), Chandler Smith (Richmond), John Hunter Nemechek (Martinsville), Jeb Burton (Talladega), Ryan Truex (Dover), Kyle Larson (Darlington) and Justin Allgaier (Charlotte).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Portland International Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. … Practice begins at 11:30 a.m. … Qualifying begins at 12 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 4:15 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Donnie Floyd of Motor Racing Outreach at 4:30 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed at 4:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 75 laps (147.75 miles) on the 1.97-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 12 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 4:30 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 4 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 73 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last year’s inaugural Xfinity race at Portland by 2.8 seconds. Myatt Snider finished second. Austin Hill placed third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at WWT Raceway, Portland


Craftsman Truck Series teams will be on track Friday at World Wide Technology Raceway to prepare for Saturday’s race. Cup teams will go through inspection before getting on track Saturday.

Xfinity Series teams will go through inspection Friday in preparation for their race Saturday at Portland International Raceway.

Here is Friday’s schedule:

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)


Friday: Partly cloudy with a high in the low 90s.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series (no track activity on Friday)

Friday 5: NASCAR’s $1 million question is can the culture change?


NASCAR Cup teams have paid nearly $1 million in fines this season, more than triple what they paid last season for inspection-related infractions.

The money — $975,000 after just 14 of 36 points races — goes to the NASCAR Foundation. While the fines help a good cause, it is a troubling number, a point that a senior NASCAR official made clear this week.

Stewart-Haas Racing was the latest Cup team to be penalized. NASCAR issued a $250,000 fine, among other penalties, for a counterfeit part found on Chase Briscoe’s car following Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. The team cited a “quality control lapse” for a part that “never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week that if violations continue, the sanctioning body will respond. NASCAR discovered the infraction with Briscoe’s car at the R&D Center. Series officials also discovered a violation with Austin Dillon’s car at the R&D Center after the Martinsville race in April.

“If we need to bring more cars (to the R&D Center), we’ll do that,” he said. “Our part of this as the sanctioning body is to keep a level playing field for all the competitors, and that’s what they expect us to do and that’s what we’ll continue to do. … Whatever we need to do, we will do that.”

Sawyer also noted that the “culture” of race teams needs to change with the Next Gen car.

“From a business model and to be equitable and sustainable going forward, this was the car that we needed,” Sawyer said. “To go with that, we needed a deterrent model that would support that.

“We’ve been very clear. We’ve been very consistent with this … and we will continue to do that. The culture that was in our garage and in the race team shops on the Gen-6 car was more of a manufacturing facility. The Next Gen car, that’s not the business model.

“The race teams, they’re doing a better job. We still have a lot of work to do, but they have to change that culture within the walls of the race shop.”

While NASCAR has made it clear that single-source vendor parts are not to be modified, teams will look for ways to find an advantage. With the competition tight — there have been 22 different winners in the first 50 races of the Next Gen car era — any advantage could be significant.

Twelve races remain, including Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway, before the playoffs begin. The pressure is building on teams.

“Some race teams, at this stage in the game, their performance is not where they would like for it to be and they’re going to be working hard,” Sawyer said. “If they feel like they need to step out of bounds and do things and just take the risk, then they may do that. That’s not uncommon. We’ve seen that over the years.

“The one thing that we have to keep in mind is we’ve raced the Next Gen car for a full season. We’re in year two, just say 18 months into it. So last year, they were just getting the parts and pieces, getting ready, getting cars prepared and getting to the racetrack.

“Now they’ve had them for a year. They’ve had them for an offseason. It’s given their engineers and the people back in the shop a lot more time to think, ‘Maybe we could do this, maybe we could do that.’

“By bringing these cars back (to the R&D Center) and taking them down to basically the nuts and bolts and a thorough inspection — and we will continue to do that — I believe we will get our message across. We’ll have to continue to do this for some period in time, but I have great faith that we will get there.”

A similar message was delivered by Sawyer to drivers this week when NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in retaliation for being forced into the wall.

Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “in the heat of the battle things happen, but (drivers) have to learn to react in a different way.”

Sawyer also noted that the message on how to race wasn’t just for those in Cup.

“We have to get that across not only to our veterans, guys that are superstars like Denny, like Bubba (Wallace) and like Chase and all our of national series Cup drivers, but also our young drivers that are coming up through the ranks that are racing in the Northeast in modifieds and in short tracks across the country,” he said. “That’s just not an acceptable behavior in how you would race your other competitors.

“There are a lot of things you can do to show your displeasure. That’s just not going to be one of them that we’re going to tolerate.”

2. Special ride 

Corey LaJoie gets to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car this weekend due to Chase Elliott’s one-race suspension.

“It’s a far cry difference from when I started my Cup career six years ago,” LaJoie said on his “Stacking Pennies” podcast this week. “There was a Twitter page “Did Corey crash?” … Going from that guy just trying to swim and stay above water and trying to learn the ropes to filling in for a champion like Chase Elliott for Hendrick Motorsports, it feels surreal.”

It was a little more than three years ago that LaJoie gave car owner Rick Hendrick a handwritten note to be considered to replace Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car after the 2020 season.

“This was the first time I’ve gotten a letter from the heart,” Hendrick told NBC Sports in February 2020 of LaJoie’s letter. “I’ve gotten letters and phones calls, usually from agents. It was really a heartfelt letter and it was really personal.

“I was impressed with him before and am more impressed after.”

LaJoie admitted on his podcast this week that he wouldn’t have been ready to drive the No. 48 car then.

“I wouldn’t have been ready, whether it be in my maturation, my game, my knowledge of the race cars,” he said. “The person that I was wasn’t ready for the opportunity like that.”

Now he gets the chance. He enters this weekend 19th in the season standings, 38 points behind Alex Bowman for what would be the final playoff spot at this time.

“It’s an opportunity to hopefully show myself, as well as other people, what I’ve been thinking (of) my potential as a race car driver,” LaJoie said on his podcast. “But I also think you have to just settle in and be appreciative of the opportunity.”

3. Special phone call

With Corey LaJoie moving into Chase Elliott’s car for Sunday’s Cup race, LaJoie’s car needed a driver. Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar will make his Cup debut in LaJoie’s No. 7 car for Spire Motorsports.

Once details were finalized this week, the 20-year-old Hocevar called his dad.

“I don’t know if he really believed it,” Hocevar said.

He told his dad: “Hey, this is actually happening.”

His father owns a coin and jewelry shop and is looking to close the store Sunday and have someone watch his two puppies so he can attend the race.

For Hocevar, it’s quite a turnaround for a driver who has been at the center of controversy at times.

Ryan Preece was critical of Hocevar’s racing late in the Charlotte Truck event in May 2022. Preece said to FS1: “All you kids watching right now wanting to get to this level, don’t do that. Race with respect. Don’t wreck the guy on the outside of you trying to win your first race. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”

NASCAR penalized Hocevar two laps for hooking Taylor Gray in the right rear during the Truck race at Martinsville in April.

Hocevar acknowledged he has had to change how he drives.

“Last year was really, really tough for me and that’s no excuse,” Hocevar said this week. “I just was mentally wrong on a lot of things, had the wrong mindset. I wanted to win so badly that I thought I could outwork stuff and it kind of turned some people away. … I wasn’t enjoying the time there. I was letting the results dictate that.

“I was taking results too personal. If we were going to be running seventh, I took it as I was a seventh-place driver and I wasn’t good enough. So I started making desperate moves. I did desperate things at times, even last year, that I’ve been able to calm down and look myself in the mirror and had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations.”

He called the Martinsville race “a turning point” for him and knew he needed to change how he drove. He enters this weekend’s Truck race with three consecutive top-five finishes.

4. Moving forward

In a way, Zane Smith can relate to what Carson Hocevar will experience this weekend. Smith, competing in the Truck Series, made his Cup debut last year at World Wide Technology Raceway. Smith filled in for RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, who missed the race because of COVID-19 symptoms. Smith finished 17th.

“That one that I got for RFK Racing was a huge opportunity,” Smith said of helping him get some Cup rides this season. “I was super thankful for that. I think that run we had got my stock up and then, honestly, getting the Truck championship helped that rise as well.

“I think just time in the Cup car is so important, and I think once that new Cup car came out, people realized that you don’t have to do the route of Truck, Xfinity, Cup. The Cup car is so far apart from anything, though it does kind of race like a truck, so I don’t think you need to go that round of Truck, Xfinity, Cup. I think a lot of people would agree with me on that.

“I’m happy for these Cup starts that I’m getting. I’m happy for that one that I got last year at a place like Gateway. I think every time that you’re in one you learn a lot.”

Smith has made five Cup starts this season, finishing a career-best 10th in last week’s Coca-Cola 600 for Front Row Motorsports. The former Truck champion has two Truck series wins this year and is third in the season standings.

5. Notable numbers

A look at some of notable numbers heading into this weekend’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois:

5 — Most points wins in the Next Gen car (William Byron, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott)

7 — Different winners in the last seven points races: Christopher Bell (Bristol Dirt), Kyle Larson (Martinsville), Kyle Busch (Talladega), Martin Truex Jr. (Dover), Denny Hamlin (Kansas), William Byron (Darlington), Ryan Blaney (Coca-Cola 600).

17 — Points between first (Ross Chastain) and sixth (Christopher Bell) in the Cup standings

88 — Degrees at Kansas, the hottest temperature for a Cup race this season (the forecast for Sunday’s race calls for a high in the low 90s)

100 — Consecutive start for Austin Dillon this weekend

500 — Cup start for Brad Keselowski this weekend

687 — Laps led by William Byron, most by any Cup driver this season

805 — Cup start for Kevin Harvick this weekend, tying him with Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list.