By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
- Raikkonen will make Nationwide debut
- Whit is ready for 3rd series event start
- Earnhardt to run his first series oval
When the NASCAR Nationwide Series takes the green flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday for the Top Speed 300, the field will be dotted with a few new faces. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie and points leader Cole Whitt, former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen and Truck Series regular Jeffrey Earnhardt are on the entry list for Saturday’s race.
This weekend’s Nationwide race will mark a series debut for Raikkonen. He made his NASCAR debut last weekend, also at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 Camping World Truck Series race. He drove the No. 15 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry to a lead lap 15th-place finish in that event.
I am interested to see how it feels ...
“Ever since I have stopped doing Formula 1, my interest has turned to many different motorsports,” Raikkonen said. “I want to try different things, so I had time to come and see how it is and learn and try to get better.”
Raikkonen will drive a car from the NEMCO Motorsports stable on Saturday. NEMCO, owned by series veteran Joe Nemechek, is partnering with Kyle Busch Motorsports to field the No. 87 car for Raikkonen this weekend.
“I am interested to see how it feels and how the racing is in NASCAR,” Raikkonen said.
While the Top Speed 300 will be the series debut for Raikkonen, Whitt and Earnhardt have a slight bit of experience in Nationwide competition.
Whitt competed in the final two Nationwide Series races of the 2010 season, posting top-20 finishes in both. He finished 15th in his series debut at Phoenix International Raceway last November. He followed that up a week later with a 17th-place finish in the Nationwide season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Saturday’s race will be Whitt’s first in a Nationwide car at Charlotte. In Truck Series competition, he finished third there last weekend.
Whitt will drive the No. 99 car for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing in the Top Speed 300.
Earnhardt will be behind the wheel of the No. 41 car for Rick Ware Racing, the organization he has been racing with in the Camping World Truck Series. Earnhardt and RWR’s efforts in that series, though, have hit a sponsorship hurdle.
“We had a lot of momentum in the Truck Series, and it was disappointing when the sponsor left, but that happens in this business, and you have to move on,” Earnhardt said. “I’m a competitor. Whether it’s racing on a track or pulling the team together to work with sponsors, failure is not an option. (Team owner) Rick (Ware) and his team have been great, and the upcoming Charlotte race is a new beginning.”
Like Whitt, the Charlotte race on Saturday will be Earnhardt’s third start in Nationwide Series competition, but it‘ll be his first on an oval. He raced twice in the series in 2009 for Key Motorsports. Both of those starts came on road courses. Earnhardt finished 24th at Watkins Glen International and 31st at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
“We are looking forward to having Jeffrey in the No. 41 at Charlotte in the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” Ware said. “this past month has been extremely exciting at RWR with Jeffrey making the jump to the Nationwide Series.”
The Top Speed 300 is scheduled to take the green flag at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The race can be seen live on ABC, with coverage beginning at 2 p.m. ET. It can also be heard on PRN and Sirius XM channel 90.