Jenson Button finished 18th in his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion worked harder than he ever has in a cockpit on a race day Sunday.
Driving the No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang relatively clean throughout the 68-lap race, around the 3.426-mile, 20-turn road course, Button was joined on the COTA grid by fellow F1 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, indeed the former F1 foes spent much of Sunday’s race in close quarters.
Räikkönen qualified just ahead of Button in 22nd, but the British driver got the better of Finn in the race, finishing 11 spots ahead of the 2007 F1 World Champion.
Button won 15 grands prix in a nearly two-decade F1 career (2000-2017) has driven some tough races in his life. Stats show that Button made five F1 starts at COTA between 2012-2016 with a best finish of fifth in the 2012 United States Grand Prix.
This was his sixth start at the venue, his first in NASCAR inspired by his American partner Britnny Ward and having watched Tom Cruise’s iconic Days of Thunder, and is sure to rank as one of the toughest challenges he has had in motorsport, even contemplating throwing in the towel when the “heat” got too much. But he persevered…
I’ve never gone through a corner two wide so often
Speaking after his debut in Austin, Button summed up his race day as a Good’ol Boy: “It was an emotional rollercoaster. At 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 two 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. The first stint was really bad.
“It was embarrassing for me. I was like, ‘Alright 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. Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer.”
I thought I was going to faint in the car
Button added: “It was really difficult, but toward 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.”
“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,” declared Button.
At the sharp end, Tyler Reddick won the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix to score his fourth career NASCAR Cup Series victory, his first of the season and his first at COTA. His margin over second-place Kyle Busch was 1.411 seconds.
As for his return, Button’s final Cup Series race of the 2023 season is the Verizon 200 at The Brickyard on 13 August on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track the Englishman has also raced on before, in F1. (Quotes & Stats supplied by TrueSpeed)