The 2009 Formula 1 world champion is making his NASCAR debut this weekend aboard the #15 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang, with technical support from Stewart-Haas Racing.
In the only 50-minute practice session this weekend, he ran 13 total laps and logged the 28th quickest time out of 39 entries. He was 1.770s slower than pace-setter Tyler Reddick’s 23XI Racing Toyota, but ahead of 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen by 0.505s on the Finn’s second outing with the Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. The Finn was 32nd overall.
COTA is the first of three planned Cup starts this year for Button, who will also race at the Chicago Street Course on 2 July and at the Indianapolis Road Course on 13 August.
Speaking during a Friday press conference at Austin, the Briton explained that his steep learning curve began even before exiting the Cup Series garage.
“A little bit anxious but excited at the same time,” the 15-time Grand Prix winner said of his emotions.
“I forgot how to start the car, which was interesting. So they pushed the car back, and I’m like ‘It won’t start.’ There were a few other switches I had to put up. But then it was okay.”
Button explained that he was “surprised by how little grip there was initially when I pulled away and the tyres were cold” and said he was still getting used to driving with a sequential gearbox for the first time since his Formula 3 days in 1999.
“I’ve never pulled back going through the gears and pushed to go down,” he said. “It’s something completely new to learn.
“I’ve driven a manual gearbox, but you always go across the box. The last time I drove a gearbox like this was like in 1999.
“There’s a lot that you go back into the bank of info you’ve learned over the years, and you bring it out again. It comes to you pretty quick. I really enjoyed it.”
Jenson Button, Rick Ware Racing, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang
Photo by: Jared East / NKP / Motorsport Images
Button also noted that it was a “soothing” experience to have a spotter guiding him throughout the session on a track where he raced five times in F1.
“I’ve never had spotters before,” he said.
“So, I’ve got guys in my ear the whole way around telling me there’s traffic behind, there’s traffic in front – it’s quite soothing. I kind of like it.
“Our spotters have very soothing voices, which I think is good and it’s especially going to be good on Sunday when it’s manic out there. That’s something else to learn – having my mirrors, so I can see around me.
“But they tell me all the fun information about what’s going on around me.”
He later added: “As I noticed here in practice, people don’t move out of the way when they’re on a slow lap and you’re on a quick lap. There’s a lot to learn.”
Button said he was “enjoying the process” of adapting to learning to drive in NASCAR with more weight and less downforce than he is used to.
“Tomorrow in qualifying – when it really counts to get a lap in – there’s a bit more pressure. We’ll see how it goes.
“Set-up-wise, working with my guys, improving it. Yeah, we’re going in the right direction.”
Qualifying begins at 11:30 am local time. The field is split into two groups, with the five fastest from each advancing into the final round where they will fight for pole.
Button will be part of the first group, which includes three former Cup Series champions.