As he pursues his journey into the world of stock cars, former Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button has proven that he has a little bit of speed ahead of NASCAR’s first-ever street circuit race.
This weekend on the streets of Chicago, 43-year-old Button will start in his second NASCAR Cup Series race.
He rapidly established himself as one of the track’s fastest racers after switching to the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford (with assistance from Stewart-Haas Racing).
It’s a bit more of a level playing field this weekend with everyone experiencing this circuit for the first time. In his prior start, a clearly worn-out Button completed a creditable 18th in a chaotic race at COTA.
He has expressed the desire for a “calmer” race in Chicago, and he believes that beginning nearer the front could help achieve it.
Behind Denny Hamlin and Shane van Gisbergen, who will be making his Cup debut on Sunday, Button was third fastest in practice.
Of the five racers who moved on from Group A to the last round of qualifying, Button was fourth. His quick lap was good for eighth on the grid, despite the fact that he ultimately failed to contend for pole. That’s 16 spots higher than his starting position at COTA, which was 24th.
The second-highest qualifying Ford racer in the field, Button was 1.136s slower than Hamlin, who won the pole.
“It’s been a good day,” he said after Saturday’s action. “I mean it’s funny, isn’t it: You always want more than what you have. It’s the way of life, it seems. But no, it was a good run in terms of, I don’t think we did anything wrong. I think the balance was a little bit out. We’ve been fighting a tight car so for me, I’d call it understeer. I really struggled to get a lap on that one, and most people are doing the time on lap one. So, that hurts me quite a bit.
“It hurt me in Q1, and then in Q2, I had traffic. I can’t do the lap on the first lap, but it was starting my second lap that I had traffic. It was slightly annoying, so I had to do a cool down lap and then go again. Never works as well. P8 isn’t too bad. I’m pretty happy with that. I just wish we got a clean run in Q2. I would have had a couple more spots. It wouldn’t have been top-three, but it would have been a couple more spots.”
Between COTA and Chicago, Button raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Next Gen Cup car that had been modified for the Garage 56 entry.
He believes he has learned a lot over the previous three months and is “definitely” more at ease before this event. Button also had high respect for Van Gisbergen, the three-time Australian Supercars champion who almost missed securing pole position for the NASCAR season.
“It’s new to all of us. I think Shane [Van Gisbergen] did a really good job. First time in a Cup car, but he does have the expertise of a street circuit in a heavy car. I think he was always going to be quick. We were a bit off the pace of the top-three there, but we would have been a bit closer. It’s nice to be able to sit in the Top-10.
“Who knows tomorrow? It looks like we’re going to have rain in the morning. The car feels more like a race car than a qualifying car in terms of where the balance is, which is great. That’s something to be positive about going into the race tomorrow. Thanks to the whole team, and thanks to Mobil 1 for giving me this opportunity once again.”
This year, Button intends to compete in three NASCAR races, with his third and last Cup race taking place at the Indianapolis Road Course in a month.
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Nascar, NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity, Jenson Button, Rick Ware Racing, COTA