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Button‘s NASCAR Cup debut was far from easy, but in a race that went into triple overtime and saw numerous incidents, he was elated just to make it to the checkered flag.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” said Button. “First, it was terrible. 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.”
Button started the race in 24th, and fell back through the pack during the opening stage.
Jenson Button, Rick Ware Racing
Photo by: Chris Graythen – Getty Images
“The first stint was really bad – it was embarrassing for me,” he confessed. “I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. 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.”
Button even had a run-in with fellow F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen at one point, saying: “I also had a massive whack from Kimi, and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Everytime I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer. It was really difficult, but towards the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts – got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside.”
Battling the heat
The 43-year-old also faced another issue — heat exhaustion. The racing was intense enough, but in the enclosed stock car with temperatures outside reaching above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, he found himself struggling to stay cool. It got so bad, he nearly retired from the race because of it.
“Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion,” he explained. “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.”
Button will make his next NASCAR Cup Series appearance at the Chicago Street Course race on July 2nd.
In June, he will run the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he will join Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller behind the wheel of the Garage 56 NASCAR entry.
Jenson Button, Rick Ware Racing, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang
Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images