NASCAR Cup Series

Justin Marks: Kimi Raikkonen’s NASCAR ride “kind of his until he tells me otherwise”

3 Mins read
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kimi Räikkönen was the talk of the town when he entered the NASCAR Cup Series for the first time at Watkins Glen International in August. While the race did not go as planned as he crashed out, he called it “good fun” and said “we’ll see” on future starts.

If he wishes, his car owner Justin Marks is more than willing to welcome him back to the #91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. In a media conference on Tuesday as his Trackhouse Racing Team prepares to compete for the Cup championship, Marks explained he “sort of operate[s] under the assumption that it’s kind of [Kimi’s] ride until he tells me otherwise.”

“I really enjoyed my time with Kimi and his family,” said Marks. “I thought he did an amazing job. I think without the wreck, the way the strategy was playing and how he was learning through the race was going to put us in a position for an outside shot at a top ten, certainly a top-fifteen finish, which would have been a really nice day.”

Räikkönen’s start came under the PROJECT91 banner. The programme consists of a third car, the #91, that would be piloted by international racing stars with little to no prior NASCAR experience; Räikkönen’s last stock car foray was a pair of Xfinity and Truck Series races in 2011. Although Watkins Glen was the car’s lone race of 2022, Marks expressed interest in expanding the slate for 2023, especially on road courses though he has not ruled out ovals.

“I’d love to do three, four, five races with that programme,” he continued. “It’s important to bring something to the race track that’s unique and unprecedented, and that’s kind of where we look. It’s not just Formula One. It’s what different disciplines and backgrounds and personalities and celebrity we can bring to the series.

“I’m actually really excited about the future of that sport, of that programme, because NASCAR is something everybody in the world knows about. Everybody would love to try. It’s incredible racing. Now we’ve got a car that I think people that haven’t driven a NASCAR before can get in and get up to speed pretty quickly. We’ll see where it goes, but I’m excited about that programme.”

Despite being nothing more than a team owner (who occasionally dabbles in driving himself), Marks has been establishing himself as a fan favourite. Trackhouse, which he co-owns with Grammy Award-winning artist Pitbull, fields two race-winning cars for Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez. While Suárez has proven popular among Mexican fans, Chastain caught the attention of the sports world and beyond with his dramatic wall-ride at Martinsville on Sunday to qualify for the Championship Round.

Chastain’s pass drew plenty of praise from racing and non-racing figures alike, with F1 driver Fernando Alonso calling it “the best thing of 2022 in motor racing”. Marks noted three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen texted him about the pass, just weeks after van Gisbergen revealed he had been in talks about potentially racing the #91 in 2023, as did Pierre Gasly and Robby Gordon. Gasly tweeted about the move, “When in doubt, flat out!”

“That’s why this move was done in video games for so long,” Marks continued. “We all grew up doing this move in video games, but nobody ever thought something like this was possible in the real world. So when you see it happen, with every race car driver in the world, it’s just like, ‘Oh my God, somebody actually tried to do it and actually made it work.’ And just the kid in all of us and the competitor in all of us race car drivers, I don’t think that you can look at that and just not think it’s just one of the most insane cool things that you’ve ever seen.

“So seeing that being played out in other forms of motorsports is just really cool. I’ve just been kind of a passenger and a fan the last forty-eight hours, just like everybody else has, just in awe of what we all saw. No one knew it was coming. No one in this building knew it was coming except for Ross. It’s just been pretty wild.”

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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