Button to make NASCAR debut at COTA

Button to make NASCAR debut at COTA

NASCAR

Button to make NASCAR debut at COTA

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The NASCAR Cup Series field at Circuit of The Americas will have another significant name on the entry list as Jenson Button makes his first of three starts this season.

Button, the 2009 Formula 1 world champion, will drive the No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford for Rick Ware Racing. Stewart-Haas Racing will provide marketing and promotional support. The two teams did the same last season with multiple drivers.

The 43-year-old Briton ran his last full Formula 1 season in 2016 and retired after making one start in 2017 when he filled in for Fernando Alonso. Button made 306 career starts and earned 15 grand prix victories.

“The reason I was able to stay in Formula 1 for so long was because I always felt I was learning,” Button said. “There was always something new in terms of technologies, or I could still improve my driving or engineering skills within Formula 1. When I got to my 17th year in F1, I felt like I lost that hunger a little bit because it wasn’t new anymore. There wasn’t something new to learn.”

Over the last few years, Button has challenged himself by racing new things. Button went to Japan and ran in the Super GR Series’ GT500 class, winning the 2018 championship. He competed at Le Mans and did off-road racing in the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000.

COTA will be Button’s first foray into NASCAR. Jordan Taylor is already entered in the event, substituting for the injured Chase Elliott at Hendrick and Kim Raikkonen, another former Formula 1 champion, is driving for Trackhouse Racing.

Button will also compete in the inaugural Chicago street course race and the Indianapolis road course.

“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” said Button. “It’s a lot heavier with a lot less power and, basically, no downforce. It’s got a sequential gearbox where you need to blip the throttle, so there’s lots of stuff to learn in a very short space of time.

“But I just get excited about that new challenge, and when I throw myself into something, I am 100% in. I’m not just doing it for fun in some one-off. I want to be competitive, and I know that to be competitive, it’s going to take a bit of time. That’s why doing these three races works very well this season.”

Tony Stewart commended Button’s attempt at a new racing series.

“It’s always a challenge to try a new racing discipline, and the best thing you can bring to a new opportunity like this is an open mind,” Stewart said. “Jenson has been doing that his entire career. Those F1 cars evolve every year, and Jenson always found a way to adapt. And when he got out of F1, he jumped into sports cars and won another championship. He’s even done off-road. There’s very little that he hasn’t experienced in a race car.

“He’s new to NASCAR, but he’s not new to racing. This is going to be fun for all of us, and we’re very appreciative of Mobil 1 for making it happen.”

Button made five starts at COTA in Formula 1. He said the most important thing for his Cup Series debut is to enjoy it.

“I want to feel comfortable in the car knowing that I can get as much out of the car in any situation as other people out on track,” Button said. “The result is the result and we’ll see what happens, but I want to get confidence to brake as late as I’d like, to carry the speed through the high-speed corners, and to be able to race close — wheel-to-wheel with the pack.”

Through his association with the Garage 56 program, where NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports are taking a modified Next Gen car to Le Mans, Button is familiar with the vehicle. Button tested the Garage 56 car at Sebring, Daytona and COTA.

“The first time I jumped into the Garage 56 car, it was like, ‘What have I done?’ This is so different,’ and that lasted about four laps,” Button said. “Then it was like, ‘Hang on, it’s still a race car. It’s got four tires that touch the road. It’s a mechanical race car, which is even better for learning.’ I’ve really enjoyed the challenge. A Cup car has a lot less downforce and is a lot heavier, but the Garage 56 car has given me an idea of what it will be like along with a direction, which is really useful.

“I know in my first race I’m not expected to be qualifying right at the front, and I’m not expected to be fighting for a victory. I have a lot of respect for the drivers racing in the Cup Series. There’s so much talent there, whether it’s on ovals or road courses.

“Ten years ago, people used to say NASCAR guys can’t drive around a circuit, but I think they’ve proven that they can. Every time an ex-F1 driver gets in a stock car these days, they struggle initially. It takes a while for them to get up to speed, so I don’t expect to be right at the front straight away. That’s why, for me, doing more than one race is really key, so I can get the best out of myself and the best out of the car.”

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