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Raikkonen's Interest Ripples the NASCAR Waters

Perhaps in part because there isn’t much else compelling to discuss – few seem to be exulting over Matt Kenseth’s rather overwhelming conquest of Texas save the fiercely loyal fans of the Badger State – the timing was almost perfect for Kimi Raikkonen to happen upon NASCAR.

No one knows much so far other than that the 2007 World Driving Champion is going to compete in a Camping World Truck Series race on May 20 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and several more afterwards. He satisfactorily completed a test session recently at one of the more unlikely places in the States for a European driving ace to appear, that being Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.

Other than these obvious signs that Raikkonen is interested, little is known, and based on a bit of research into the career of this 31-year-old Finn, it’s not going to change much. While there is decent diversity of personality among the ranks of stock car racing’s finest, few NASCAR drivers have ever been described as laconic or insouciant. Nothing so far disputes this. Reporting on Raikkonen’s impending arrival has dwelled mainly on what others have said about him, not what he has said. The quotes have all been issued in Raikkonen’s name and read as if they were made by committee.

Of those who know Raikkonen – if there really are such persons – the chief impression seems to have been surprise. Out of all the sentences spoken by all the drivers, crew chiefs and owners in NASCAR, the most appropriate came from Nelson Piquet Jr., a Formula One veteran already competing in NASCAR trucks.

“He’s a bit of a funny guy,” said Piquet.

Piquet also said, “He changes his mind like he changes his underwear. You can never know. Maybe he can stay doing this for one or two years. Maybe he can do three races and get fed up. You never know with Kimi.”

Unlike the case with Juan Pablo Montoya, almost no one saw this one coming. It was obvious from the start that Montoya was serious. Responses to Raikkonen’s test of the waters refer to it almost as a lark.

With precious little from the principal source, rumors have quickly spread to Sprint Cup races, in particular the one scheduled for June 26 in Sonoma, Calif. A road course in Wine Country makes infinitely more sense than a test session on a banked half-mile in Georgia.

Jeff Gordon, an F1 fan, has at least observed Raikkonen from afar.

Addressing the NASCAR media recently, Gordon said, “I can’t wait for him to come in here and do an interview because the one-word answers you guys are going to get out of those questions is going to be hilarious to watch. I may come in (the media center) for that.”

Raikkonen, of course, may surprise. Montoya did. From the moment he began diligently applying himself to the pursuit of stock-car success, the Colombian driver adapted to the culture. He, in fact, took to it, as has, at a lower level, Piquet.

Stereotypical images invariably arise. A bit role, Aldo Bennedetti, in the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder.” The reclusive actress, Greta Garbo, oft identified with the line, “I want to be alone,” in the movie “Grand Hotel.”

“I never said ‘I want to be alone,’” Garbo once said. “I only said ‘I want to be let alone.’ There is all the difference.”

Besides, Raikkonen is Finnish. Garbo was Swedish. They couldn’t possibly have anything in common.

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