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INSIGHT: Why NASCAR turned to Button after F1 Sport-rated




Jenson Button will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut at a Circuit of the Americas venue he knows well from his Formula 1 days, but the challenge couldn’t be much more different.

The 2009 F1 world champion will compete for Rick Ware Racing, with support from Stewart-Haas, in three events this year, adding the new Chicago street race and Indianapolis Speedway to his schedule. They were all chosen because of his experience in F1 venues and his clean slate in Chicago, but in reality he feels there is very little he can draw on in terms of background knowledge.

“I’ve raced at COTA several times in an F1 car and everyone was saying a couple of days ago when I tested there in the Garage 56 car, ‘Oh, it’s easy for you, you’ve driven here in an F1 car’ but it’s a little different in an F1 car!’ says the button. “You basically drive a different circuit.

“To be able to familiarize myself with a big car, a stock car, last week’s test helped me even though it is a very different type of car.

“I enjoy the track, it flows, in an F1 car it’s just amazing. You go through Turn 1 and through Esses, all the way to Turn 9 it’s just a change of direction after a change of direction. You miss a foot at Turn 3 and that affects you until Turn 9, and I think we all love that as drivers, it’s very similar to the Suzuka Esses. There are very good overtaking opportunities in an F1 car – the DRS helps.

“In a stock car it is very different. It’s obviously a lot slower, and they’re side by side through Turn 3 and Turn 4, which is crazy, but I’m looking forward to all that rubbing and pounding and whatever. It will be an exciting experience.

“And the stock car racing around COTA has been good too. I’ve watched last year’s race probably 20 times just to understand where they’re putting the car, the different driving styles, who’s more aggressive than others… So last year’s race was a lot of fun to watch, so I hope looking forward to the action.”

It’s not just a PR line you’re waiting for. This is a venture Button himself started when he signaled his interest in Mobil 1, and he’s been eager to take on what he’s learned about NASCAR since the movie “Days of Thunder” put the series on his radar as a racing race. nine years. -old.

But very few F1 drivers seem willing to take on other challenges that are so different from the world they know. Button himself was admirably engaged throughout his grand prix career and later turned expert, suggesting that even living in America did not seem to break ties with the European scene.

So after approaching an IndyCar ride in the time of the pandemic, and now tackling Le Mans in NASCAR’s Garage 56 alongside Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller, what has prompted Button to jump into a Cup car? and follow the recent steps of his companions? F1 champions Kimi Raikkonen and Jacques Villeneuve?

“He felt so removed from us when we were young. I don’t want to be negative about Formula 1 because it’s an amazing sport and I’m an F1 world champion so I’ve spent most of my life there, but you’re very focused and your family doesn’t come to the races. because their teams don’t really want them to be there, because they know their focus is very important,” he muses.

“It is very hard because it is your life, it is everything. Everything you do is for Formula 1. I did it for 17 years and you are in this world that you forget everything else. The only thing that matters is to become a better racing driver and a better Formula 1 driver. So when you come out of that, it’s exciting for me to do other things.

“With NASCAR there is a much more relaxed environment. Don’t get me wrong: the racing is very serious and these are some of the best drivers in the world, but the atmosphere outside the car, the atmosphere on the track is much more relaxed. It’s more of a family-based category, so I think that’s why we like it, because it tries something different. We’ve been doing the same thing for many years, so trying something different is exciting.

“Jacques raced last year, Kimi did a race last year and everyone seems to enjoy it. And I think it’s also because we love another challenge. It’s trying something different. We are not just F1 drivers, we are racing drivers. I also live in the United States, so it definitely helps with that.”

It’s not just a single interest that Button has, either. While he admits it’s his performances that will decide whether there are any more opportunities for him to compete in the Cup Series beyond the three announced, the 43-year-old is also considering a possible oval transition for events like the 2019 500. Daytona, but he has a longer road in mind as something he can do without sacrificing family time.

“For me it’s not just about driving the race car. A race car is a race car, and it’s very different to what I’m used to, but you get used to it over time,” she says. “What is much more difficult is the racing, having cars around you, having a spotter tell you who is where and most of the time you are stuck in the middle and you can’t really do much.

“It’s just a very different kind of race, and that’s what I think would take a while. I could go and drive on an oval, and I’m sure it would take time, but I would get familiar with it, especially on a track like Daytona where it’s flat (off) all the way. But it’s when you put other cars into the equation and the drafting and the push, it’s a lot to learn.

“Doing that in the Cup Series is probably not the best way for me, getting into a Cup car at Daytona. I think it would be better to do it in a lower category first and gain a bit of experience that way.

“The atmosphere is great, and that’s what I really love about NASCAR. About all the different series in NASCAR, but especially the Cup Series, it’s the family atmosphere that really got me. I was talking to Jimmie Johnson and he said, ‘My kids come over and play with everyone else’s kids!’ It’s that part that really heightens the interest for me.”

Whatever the motivation behind it, it’s sure to add to the broader motorsports interest in certain NASCAR events this year as well. That’s a win-win for everyone.

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