NASCAR Cup Series

Jenson Button enters NASCAR at COTA, Chicago, Indianapolis

3 Mins read
Credit: Rick Ware Racing

Kimi Räikkönen and Jenson Button raced together in Formula One for over fifteen years. On 26 March, they will face off on the track once again, albeit in a slightly different vehicle from what everyone is used to.

On Thursday, Rick Ware Racing announced Button will race in NASCAR for the first time as he will do a three-race Cup Series schedule in their #15 Ford Mustang. His first start will come at Circuit of the Americas on 26 March, followed by the Chicago Street Race on 2 July and Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 13 August.

The plan came together as Button prepares to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June in a NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro, a project organised by NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports under the Garage 56 banner. While he will be in a Ford Next Gen car for his NASCAR entries, the differences between NASCAR manufacturers are relatively scant, especially for the Next Gen vehicle which receives multiple parts from single vendors regardless of make. His Le Mans team-mates Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller also boast Cup experience, the former being a seven-time champion while the latter has dabbled on road courses in addition to helping test the Garage 56 car. Jordan Taylor, who is working as driver coach for the trio, is also set for his NASCAR début at COTA.

“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 percent 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.

“The most important thing for me 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. 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.”

The 2009 Formula One World Champion, Button has continued his racing career in various disciplines since departing F1 in 2017, winning Super GT’s GT500 championship and making his Le Mans début a year later. He has also dabbled heavily in off-road racing, competing in the Baja 1000 and Mint 400 in 2019, owning JBXE in Extreme E since the inaugural season in 2021, and competing in Nitro Rallycross.

With Button and Räikkönen entered, COTA—which hosts F1’s United States Grand Prix—will be the first NASCAR race to feature multiple F1 champions. Other former World Champions to race in NASCAR include Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, and Jacques Villeneuve (Sir Jackie Stewart did not make his lone NASCAR entry while Jochen Rindt was Clark’s substitute if needed). Olivier Beretta, Christian Fittipaldi, Dan Gurney, Narain Karthikeyan, Daniil Kvyat, Jan Magnussen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Max Papis, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Scott Speed have all competed in both disciplines.

In five Grands Prix at COTA, Button’s best finish was fifth in the inaugural race in 2012. NASCAR’s Indianapolis race takes place on the infield road course that previously hosted the United States Grand Prix, which Button ran from 2000 to the final edition in 2007 though with little success as he failed to score any points during a tumultuous point of his career.

RWR’s #15 will operate in collaboration with Stewart-Haas Racing, a similar proposition to when SHR’s then-reserve driver Ryan Preece ran two races in the car in 2022; SHR’s Xfinity driver Riley Herbst, who also has Baja experience like Button, ran the Daytona 500 in the car in February. Mobil 1, an SHR sponsor who also backed Button’s McLaren team during his career, will sponsor the car.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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