Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen gets a second chance at Cup, while former world champion Jenson Button will race in NASCAR’s premier series for the first time Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.
Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion, and Button, the 2009 F1 champion, are among a star-studded group of drivers making a rare appearance in the Cup Series.
Jordan Taylor, a former IMSA champion, joins them and starts fourth in today’s Cup race while filing in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Also in today’s race is IndyCar driver Conor Daly, making his second start of the season, and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, also making his second start of the year.
Button, a 15-time Formula One winner, will drive the Garage 56 entry for NASCAR at Le Mans in June, but says that not everything carries over from that car to the Cup car. Both are Next Gen cars but there are differences between the two vehicles.
So how competitive can Button be from the 24th starting spot?
“Driving a car is something I’ve done my whole life,” said Button, who will pilot the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing in a partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing. “So, I will be competitive in terms of our race speed.
“It’s the other side of it where I have no experience – and that’s being six abreast going into Turn 1 and tapping here and there. 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. It’s a very, very different sports than what I’m used to. I’ll go with it… roll with the punches. I look forward to the challenge.”
Raikkonen, who starts 22nd, made his Cup debut at Watkins Glen last August for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car. He was collected in a crash during that event. Having some experience should help him for today’s race with that same effort.
“I haven’t driven any racecars since last year, so it takes a while to get used to it again even though I know the car,” said Raikkonen, whose 21st and final F1 victory came at COTA in 2018. “The car has lost some downforce, so it makes it a bit more tail-happy. At least I know that most of the things how it goes. Is it going to get any better results? We’ll find out.
“But I know the track so that helps, but as I said before it’s a lot different track with a NASCAR car than an F1 car. I feel more ready for sure on that side now that I know how the race goes and how everything else goes.”
Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks said Saturday that the Project 91 car will run multiple races this season but did not announce what races those would be and who would be the driver.
Taylor is driving for the team that won the inaugural Cup race at COTA in 2021. How well can he do in Elliott’s car today?
“Hopefully, my preparation did me well,” Taylor told NBC Sports. “I don’t want to leave the weekend with any regrets, knowing that I didn’t prepare somewhere as well as I could have. If we’re flirting anywhere in the top 10, it would be like a massive victory.”