Jenson Button was completely worn out after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race but went the distance to earn a top-20 finish in his debut.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Button said. “First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it, and I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place – I just got it wrong every time.
“Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around.”
Button finished 18th after qualifying 24th in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford. In his first of three starts this season, Button stayed on the lead lap and shuffled up and down the leaderboard all afternoon. He ran as high as 15th.
“The first stint was really bad – it was embarrassing for me,” said Button. “I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. The pace was good, consistency was good. I was really happy and passed a few cars which was nice.
“We got a little bit unlucky with the safety car because it was just two laps before our window. Pitted, then the next stint was mayhem. We also made a couple of changes that just didn’t work. Big oversteer – went from the car feeling great to really difficult to drive. I also had a massive whack from Kimi [Räikkönen], and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right.”
After two quick cautions in the first 13 laps, the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix had a long green flag run through the end of the first stage and into the final stage. With over two-minute laps around the 3.41-mile, 20-turn course, many drivers were left feeling the effects of a long day in hot cars and working through multiple green flag pit cycles.
But there were six cautions in the final 31 laps. And it came down to Button having to fight through three overtime restarts before seeing the checkered flag.
“Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer,” Button said. “It was really difficult, but towards the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts – got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside. (We) finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion.
“It was so hot; I don’t have a fan in my seat which really didn’t help me too much. It was so hot, I thought I was going to faint in the car. So, I stopped twice for a minute. They put ice on me, gave me loads of water, and I went back out.
“I was so close to getting out of the car because I thought I was going to faint. I must’ve drank eight, nine bottles of water during the race. The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end. So, I was happy.”
Button returns to the NASCAR Cup Series in early July for the inaugural street course race in Chicago.