Formula 1 champ Jenson Button comes to Chicago full of enthusiasm

Jenson Button is hardly a stranger to street courses. The 2009 Formula 1 champion has raced all over the world. In fact, his last event in F1 was the 2017 Grand Prix of Monaco on a wickedly narrow course through the principality in the south of France.

Despite his experience, Button is far from jaded. The 43-year-old is clearly enthusiastic about the prospect of racing a NASCAR Next Gen Cup Series car through the streets of Chicago in Sunday’s Grant Park 220 (5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“It’s so cool,” said Button, who is driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford. “Racing within a city—there aren’t many racing drivers that get the opportunity. I’ve had the opportunity in Monaco, in Singapore, but not in a stock car. So this is a new, exciting opportunity for me.

“I think the racing is going to be out-of-this-world exciting. We also have a bit of weather thrown into the weekend—the possibility of rain and thunderstorms. That always mixes things up. Looking forward to the action, and a big thank you to (sponsor) Mobil 1 for making this dream happen for me, to race street races in Cup this year.”

When Button took questions from reporters in the Chicago Street Course media center on Friday afternoon, he had yet to walk the 2.2-mile, 12-turn circuit. But he had done considerable analysis based on simulations and gave his synopsis of possible passing zones.

“I think Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 5 and the last corner (Turn 12) are the main overtaking places,” Button said. “Other sections of the track are too narrow, like Turn 9, that long left-hander. That’s a narrow section, but it has its own challenges, first of all trying to keep the car out of the wall, but trying to thread the needle through that section.

“It’s going to feel extremely quick. The speeds won’t be extremely high, but when the barriers are that close, it feels unbelievably fast, and it feels like they’re narrowing on you throughout the race.”