NASCAR: Jenson Button set for NASCAR debut at COTA
Jenson Button will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Circuit of The Americas as part of a three-race partnership with Mobil 1 Racing, Button announced Thursday on Race Hub.
Button will drive the No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang fielded by Rick Ware Racing at COTA, the Chicago Street Course and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Marketing and promotional support is being facilitated by Stewart-Haas Racing, according to a press release, noting prior collaborations between the two programs with numerous drivers. The Englishman is also one of three primary drivers piloting NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Button won 15 times during his 17 seasons in Formula One and claimed the 2009 championship with six victories. He was announced to the Garage 56 lineup on Jan. 28, bringing him into the stock-car world for the first time at age 43. He joins seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Le Mans and Daytona winner Mike Rockenfeller and alternate-slash-coach Jordan Taylor.
Between his full-time F1 departure in 2016 and arrival to Garage 56 this winter, Button leapt into sports cars, claiming the 2018 championship in the Japanese Super FT Series’ GT500 class ahead of a five-race stint in the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship. From the 24 Hours of Le Mans to the Baja 1000, Button has driving plenty of unique vehicles — but none on that list includes an appearance in a NASCAR Cup Series race.
“Obviously, racing a Cup car is very different than what I’m used to,” Button said in a team press release. “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.”
Sponsoring this year’s three-race effort will be Mobil 1, a longtime sponsor of both Button and NASCAR. In 2013, Button appeared with Tony Stewart, now co-owner of SHR, in the famed advertisement that introduced us to “soda cookies.” Button’s relationship with the company dates back 20 years, proving a fitting match for his inaugural Cup endeavor.
“I won the world championship with Mobil 1, and 14 of my 15 wins in Formula One were with Mobil 1, as well as winning the Super GT championship with them,” Button said. “We’ve had a really close relationship over the years and I can’t think of a better partner.
“Mobil 1 has been a big part of making these NASCAR races happen for me, so I’m very thankful to them for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to working alongside the brand to get the best out of every race weekend.”
A decade after their commercial debuted, the duo of Button and Stewart is reunited at NASCAR’s premier level. SHR, co-owned by the three-time Cup champion Stewart and F1 team owner Gene Haas, remains the home of 2014 title winner Kevin Harvick, whose 60 wins and 23 seasons of experience speak for themselves.
In a February interview with NASCAR.com, Button noted: “I think if I could do a few races, I would be up for it. Jumping in for one? That doesn’t interest me.”
Consider the wish granted. This also isn’t the first time he has thought about hopping into a NASCAR vehicle.
“I live in the States now, so I’ve looked at races in NASCAR,” Button told NBC Sports. “It’s not something I’m educated in in terms of ovals of experience there. So the road course is always something I’d like to aim for in racing. So this [Garage 56] is a perfect step into NASCAR.”
Another step closer, Button will have a multitude of other resources to prepare for his maiden competitive debut behind the wheel of a NASCAR Next Gen vehicle. While Johnson provides the easiest connection via his stock-car success and their Le Mans teamwork, Taylor will also compete at COTA, making his Cup debut for Hendrick Motorsports in place of injured 2020 series champion Chase Elliott.
On Wednesday, Button concluded a two-day test at COTA behind the wheel of the Garage 56 entry. Taylor told NASCAR.com it was a “flawless test” by his evaluation as the program strives to find better lap times in preparation for the June 10-11 event.
“The first time I jumped into the Garage 56 car, it was like, ‘What have I done? This is so different,’ and that lasted about four laps,” Button said in a release. “Then it was like, ‘Hang on, it’s still a race car. It’s got four tires that touch the road. It’s a mechanical race car, which is even better for learning.’ I’ve really enjoyed the challenge.
“A Cup car has a lot less downforce and is a lot heavier, but the Garage 56 car has given me an idea of what it will be like along with a direction, which is really useful. I know in my first race I’m not expected to be qualifying right at the front and I’m not expected to be fighting for a victory. I have a lot of respect for the drivers racing in the Cup Series. There’s so much talent there, whether it’s on ovals or road courses.”
Stewart is also no stranger to open-wheeled racers, claiming the 1997 IndyCar championship and piloting the 2008 McLaren MP4-23 which Lewis Hamilton drove to an F1 title.
“It’s always a challenge to try a new racing discipline, and the best thing you can bring to a new opportunity like this is an open mind,” Stewart said in a release. “Jenson has been doing that his entire career. Those F1 cars evolve every year, and Jenson always found a way to adapt. And when he got out of F1, he jumped into sports cars and won another championship. He’s even done off-road. There’s very little that he hasn’t experienced in a race car. He’s new to NASCAR, but he’s not new to racing. This is going to be fun for all of us, and we’re very appreciative of Mobil 1 for making it happen.” NASCAR News Release