The March 26 NASCAR Cup race at COTA will now have two former F1 champions racing. Days after Trackhouse Racing announced the return of Kimi Raikkonen, SHR revealed that 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button will make his NASCAR debut at the same track. In addition, Button will be making two more starts, at the Chicago Street Race in July, and on the Indianapolis Road Course in August.
“Two F1 world champions in a NASCAR race. Who would have ever predicted that?” Button said. “A lot of people think I’m crazy for doing this because it’s so different, but that’s why I love the challenge of it. For me, it’s not about how quick the car is, it’s about how close the racing can be. In the Cup Series, the racing is awesome. It’s definitely going to be a shock to the system, but a toe in the water, so to speak, and hopefully help me be more competitive the next time I do it.”
Button will race a Ford Mustang fielded by Rick Ware Racing with support by Stewart-Haas Racing. The RWR and SHR collaboration was used in the past after the teams formed an alliance for 2022 that was announced late in 2021.
Button won 15 Formula 1 races including 6 in 2009 the same year he won the F1 world driving title. He made 306 career starts in F1 with his final F1 start being the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix when he subbed for Fernando Alonso, who skipped Monaco to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Button’s last fulltime F1 season was 2016.
Button retired from F1 in 2017 but remained in racing moving to the Japanese Super GT Series’ GT500 class winning the championship there in 2018. He also raced in the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’s also competed in off-road endurance racing entering the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000 in 2019.
“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 One. 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.
“Stepping away from F1 gave me the opportunity to try different series that excited me. I raced Super GT in Japan. I raced at Le Mans. I raced off-road because it was another skill to learn. You put yourself in a slightly vulnerable position because it’s not your complete skill set, and there’s still more to learn to be as good as the best. I love that challenge of driving new things. It’s slightly out of my comfort zone, and I found that out with off-road trucks.”
Button’s most recent racing effort introduced him to NASCAR. Button will join Jimmie Johnson and former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller as part of the Garage 56 driver lineup. The modified NASCAR Next Gen car will be entered in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The car has undergone extensive testing on the road course at Daytona International Speedway last month followed by a full 24 our test at Sebring.
“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 racecar. It’s got four tires that touch the road. It’s a mechanical racecar, which is even better for learning.’ I’ve really enjoyed the challenge,” said Button, who has now tested the Garage 56 car at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and earlier this week at COTA.
“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.”
Button isn’t setting his NASCAR expectations too high.
“The most important thing for me is to enjoy it,” Button said. “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. The result is the result, and we’ll see what happens, but I want to get the 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.”
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