Jenson Button called his first NASCAR Cup Series stint an “embarrassment”, but after getting into the groove, Kimi Raikkonen knocked him back out of it.
Button’s outing at the Circuit of The Americas with Rick Ware Racing marked his NASCAR debut and the first of three rounds which the 2009 F1 World Champion has signed up for.
Starting 24th on the grid after a time just 0.03s slower than fellow past F1 champ Raikkonen in qualifying, Button found himself going backwards in the early stages.
“First, it was terrible,” he said after the race, as per Motorsport.com. “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 too 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.”
Fortunately though for Button a pit-stop for a breather and some fresh rubber would mark something of a turnaround at that stage as he settled into a rhythm and made up a couple of the places previously lost.
However, after an unfortunately-timed Safety Car, Button would encounter further issues when he and Raikkonen, representing Trackhouse Racing, would get a bit too close for comfort.
And the result of that “whack” was enough to put Button’s momentum into reverse once more as “the car wasn’t quite right after that”. He would gain some places towards the end though of a debut which he called an “emotional rollercoaster”, ultimately finishing in P18.
“I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tyres and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that,” Button continued.
“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, and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Every time I turned in, the rear tyres would chatter, then immediately to oversteer.
“It was really difficult, but towards the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tyres. I enjoyed the last three restarts – got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside.”
It was a race which went into triple overtime that Button almost did not complete though, as “heat exhaustion” only further added to his challenge and almost forced him to throw in the towel.
“Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion,” Button revealed. “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 (or) 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.”
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Raikkonen too had quite the rollercoaster outing at COTA, a venue where he claimed his final Formula 1 victory back at the 2018 United States Grand Prix.
‘The Iceman’ was running as high as P4 in the closing stages having pitted just before the pack bunched up under a caution, though the knocks he picked up in the subsequent wheel-banging drama, plus a spin, meant he was P29 at the line.
“I think it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “We got unlucky with the incidents that happened. It was one of those things, unfortunately.
“Then there were no tyres left. They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tyres were just done. It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time.
“It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corners and every time it looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”
That was Raikkonen’s second one-off Cup Series appearance following his outing at Watkins Glen last year, while for Button he will be back behind the wheel of the Ford Mustang for NASCAR’s first visit to the new Chicago Street Course, that race taking place on 2 July.