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Raikkonen planning NASCAR debut this year

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen will make a surprise NASCAR debut this year while also competing in rallies, Finland's Turun Sanomat newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The paper said the 31-year-old, nicknamed "Iceman," now plans to enter some NASCAR races with his ICE1 team when world rally championship commitments permit.

"I am excited about getting to know NASCAR world. I have been following it for a long time," the paper quoted him as saying.

"I am 100 percent sure it will be fun and challenging," he added.

The paper said Raikkonen will drive his first race in the truck series, before then moving up to other NASCAR series, before the summer and talks with a manufacturer were being finalized.

The autosport.com website said Foster Gillett, whose father George was until last year a co-owner of Liverpool football club, would be a major partner of the team.

Four-times Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon welcomed the report.

"I think it would be cool and exciting," he told Reuters in a statement.

"Being a fan of Formula One racing, I've watched Kimi compete and win in that series and I think it would be great to have him racing in NASCAR."

Brazilian Nelson Piquet, a former Renault F1 driver who left for NASCAR after triggering one of the sport's biggest controversies when he revealed he had been ordered to crash deliberately, also welcomed the news.

"I think it's great for the series to have Kimi Raikkonen decide to enter NASCAR and race in the trucks, and it will be great for him to know what American racing is all about," he told Reuters.

Piquet drives a Kevin Harvick Inc. owned truck in the series.

Other prominent Formula One drivers to have competed in NASCAR include Canada's 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve and Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya, who is racing for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

(Reporting by Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki and Lewis Franck in New York, editing by Alan Baldwin)

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