Jenson Button qualified 24th on his NASCAR Cup Series debut at COTA on Saturday, the Briton thoroughly enjoying his experience but also the learning curve of his baptism of fire in the series.
Running onboard the #15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang entered by Rick Ware Racing with support from Stewart-Haas Racing, Button only had one 50-minute practice session to prepare for qualifying and for Sunday’s Echopark Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.
“I forgot how to start the car which was interesting,” he said. “So they pushed the car back, and I’m like ‘It won’t start.’ There were a few other switches I had to put up. But then it was okay.
“I got onto the circuit and I was surprised by how little grip there was initially when I pulled away and the tires were cold. But, it comes to you over time.
“The gear shifting is something that … I’ve not never driven a sequential gearbox car. I’ve never pulled back going through the gears and pushed to go down. It’s something completely new to learn.
“I’ve driven a manual gearbox, but you always go across the box. The last time I drove a gearbox like this was like in 1999.
“There’s a lot that you go back into the bank of info you’ve learned over the years, and you bring it out again. It comes to you pretty quick. I really enjoyed it.”
Button: F1 should trial ‘stage points’, as in NASCAR
On Saturday, Button predictably didn’t make the cut for the 10-car pole fight and ended up P24 in the 39-car field, two spots behind his former F1 rival Kimi Raikkonen but ahead of a few big NASCAR names such as past champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and 2023 series returnee Jimmie Johnson.
“It’s definitely worlds away from the racing that I’ve been used to in the past, but it’s so much fun,” said Button.
“I’m enjoying the experience and the learning curve, because there’s a lot of that – these cars are heavy.
“But also the process and everything, over the race weekend, it’s just so different. I’ve never not had a pit [speed] limiter before so it’s little things like that you don’t think about.
“I’m not just running this race, so I get time to get experience behind the wheel of this heavy machine.”
Indeed, the 2009 F1 world champion will also compete in the inaugural Chicago Street Race in early July before culminating his three-race Cup Series slate on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course mid-August.
Although Button will launch his race seven places ahead of Harvick, the Briton expects that it will be tough to fend off his Stewart-Haas Racing stablemate in the race.
“Kevin has obviously raced a lot everywhere and in everything in NASCAR,” said Button.
“He didn’t have such a good run today in qualifying but the race – as he knows – is very different to qualifying.
“You can’t go all-out in the race because you burn the tyres up pretty quickly.
“I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be a real challenge. Three and a half hours tomorrow, I’m going to learn a lot.”
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