Jenson Button says family environment, road courses hooked him on trying NASCAR

Jenson Button NASCAR family
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Jenson Button figured his NASCAR debut might come with a “lower category” (applying the well-polished and delightful European vernacular of an articulate Brit who has spent a lifetime racing overseas).

Surely, the 2009 Formula One champion’s entry into stock cars — racing vehicles that are twice as heavy and far less responsive than his bailiwick – would need to be in the Camping World Truck or possibly Xfinity series.

But when he was talking to a Mobil 1 executive late last summer, suddenly the Cup Series became a realistic possibility.

“I said to him, ‘I’d love to get into NASCAR,’ and I was thinking more truck series, Xfinity series,” Button said during a Zoom news conference Friday morning with reporters around the world. “And he’s like, ‘Really? Let me make a few calls.’ And then we had lots of texts. And he’s like we might be able to make this happen. And I was like awesome. And then it was Abu Dhabi, last F1 race of the season when we properly talked and said we can do this. And he said we want to do more than one race, because it’s better for us and also better for you.

“We discussed and didn’t have a team to talk to yet, and that happened this year. We talked to Stewart-Haas and Rick Ware Racing and tried to work out how it would work and whether it would work. Whether we could get the car in time and build the car for the races. It’s all been very quick how it’s all turned around, and I’m a Cup Series driver! So it’s been a fun couple of months, but it’s been very tight to get the car ready for Austin.”

The March 26 race at Circuit of the Americas was announced Thursday as the debut for Button, who also will be racing the Chicago Street Race and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The No. 15 Ford Mustang will be fielded by Rick Ware Racing in collaboration with Stewart-Haas Racing, which has a longstanding relationship with sponsor Mobil 1.

The schedule also makes sense for myriad reasons. Button will be one of 40 newcomers in the field for Chicago (which is scheduled to play host to the first street race in NASCAR Cup Series history). He also has F1 experience at COTA and the IMS road course (which was picked because his car wouldn’t be ready in time a week earlier for Watkins Glen International, where 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen made his debut last year).

Though he got hooked on watching stock cars as an 8-year-old enthralled with “Days of Thunder,” it’s the NASCAR shift toward road courses (several have been added in the past few years) that made Button believe he could race there.

“I thought it was insane,” Button said of watching the Tom Cruise vehicle from 1990. “Worlds away from European motorsport. That got me in the door of liking NASCAR. It’s so different from what I’m used to, that’s probably what stopped me asking the question of would I be able to race in NASCAR because it’s so different to anything I’ve driven before. Back then, it was more ovals, no street courses. That didn’t excite me so much because it’s another skillset all together. Now there are more road courses. It’s definitely more enticing. I think I’d be more competitive. I watch races and see new guys with experience in road course racing, and they don’t find it easy. It’s very difficult. But I think that’s part of the challenge and why I’m excited about it.”

In the past five years, NASCAR has raced on new road course with COTA, IMS, Road America, Daytona International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Many of the courses are familiar to casual fans and drivers from other series who are less accustomed to ovals.

“I’ve looked at NASCAR as super cool to watch, but I can’t really relate to it because it’s so different,” Button said. “I think because we have more road courses now, and you see the cars on road courses now, and they look like a handful. The racing is amazing, but it’s proper cool to watch. I think 10 to 15 years ago, you had a few guys good on the road courses. A lot of them hadn’t raced road courses, so it would be like me jumping into the Daytona 500 on an oval. I think that’s changed over time. Now you look at grid in the Cup Series, they’re all super talented on ovals and road courses. That’s added to the excitement for people watching. You see Kimi, (Le Mans winner) Joey Hand and see it is really competitive. That makes you think, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ You get even more excitement and interest in the sport, because there is such a high level of talent there.”

Button also has a new level of experience from joining the Garage 56 lineup with Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller. The Hendrick Motorsports-fielded Chevrolet Camaro has tested at Daytona, Sebring International Raceway and COTA, providing Button with a new level of confidence that he can handle a Next Gen car in race conditions (even though the Cup car is much heavier and slower with less downforce).

Johnson also has been a guiding light for Button, who counts the seven-time Cup champion as a longtime friend.

“Jimmie has been very useful,” Button said. “Not just this but Garage 56. He’s driven stock cars his whole life. We all know how difficult it is to shift from open wheel high-downforce car to a stock car and vice versa. Jimmie has shown that the last couple of years. It’s tough. I think he did a bloody good job (in IndyCar the past two years). It just shows how difficult and different it is. He’s been really helpful.

I also spent a lot of time yesterday with the team getting to grips with the feeling of the car. It’s such an important thing. I can’t be sat up straight with the steering wheel here on my lap. I need to be sat back a bit more like a single-seater. And we found a position that works for me. If I have that, I’ll have a lot more feeling through the car and get to grips with it quicker.

“But the biggest point of contact the last four or five months has been Jimmie because we’ve worked together quite a bit on Garage 56, which is obviously very different. The Cup car is 8 seconds quicker a lap. But we’ve done three tests and been together all three. I think Jimmie has been the best, and I said to him, ‘What do you think (about the Cup ride)? Should I do it?”, and he said you definitely have to do it. You’ll have a blast. All right. I’m done. I’m in, so if Jimmie thinks it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be fun.”

Encouraged by the tales of Johnson’s daughters having fun at the track, Button plans to bring his wife and two children to COTA and said it’s “the family atmosphere that really got me” about NASCAR.

“I don’t want to be negative about Formula One because it is an amazing sport,” said Button, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “I’m an F1 world champ, so I’ve spent most of my life there. But you’re so focused. Your family doesn’t come to the races because your teams don’t really want them to be there because they know your focus is so important. It’s very tough because it’s your life. It’s everything. Everything you do is for Formula One. I did it for 17 years in this world where you forget about everything else. It’s all that matters is making you a better racing driver and Formula One driver.

“So when you step outside that, for me it’s exciting to do other things. With NASCAR, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere. The racing is very serious. And these are some of the best drivers in the world, but the atmosphere outside the car and at the track, it’s a lot more relaxed and family-based category. That’s why we like it because it’s trying something different. We’ve done something the same for so many years, so to go and try something different is exciting.”

Motocross 2023: Results and points after SuperMotocross Round 18 at Hangtown


For the second consecutive week, Jett Lawrence had perfect results in the Pro Motocross round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California with a pair of moto wins and the overall victory, only this time he didn’t have Chase Sexton, who sat out the round with a concussion, to keep him honest in the second race.

Jett Lawrence’s performance in the first two Motocross rounds has him thinking of a rookie championship. – Align Media

Lawrence led all 16 laps of both races after taking the holeshot in the second moto and grabbing the lead from Dylan Ferrandis in Turn 2 of Moto 1. Lawrence claimed a four-second lead in Moto 1 and five seconds in Moto 2, but as dominant as it seems on paper, there were some exciting moments during the weekend. In the second race, Lawrence wanted to build an advantage that would allow him to maintain his pace and he nearly high-sided a couple of times in heavy ruts.

RESULTS: Click here for full 450 Results; Click here for 250 Results

In his second race back from a concussion, Ferrandis finished in the runner-up spot with a second in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. While his finish of second overall goes into the record books, Pro Motocross points are rewarded for each individual race and that meant Ferrandis lost eight points in championship battle to Lawrence. With Sexton failing to mount up for the race, Ferrandis advanced to second in the standings with an 18-point gap to Lawrence. Equally important, Ferrandis gained ground in the SuperMotocross World Championship (WSX) points and now has a gap of 44 over 21st-place Justin Starling.

Cooper Webb is also in his second round since returning from a Supercross injury suffered in Nashville at the end of their season. Claiming results of fourth and second in the two races, Webb earned 40 SuperMotocross points at Hangtown and closed in on Sexton in the WSX battle. Sexton entered Hangtown with a large enough lead that he could not be overtaken, but he is now only 38 points up and could face a difficult decision next week at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado if he wants to hold onto his lead.

Moto 1 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Moto 2 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Consolation Race

Aaron Plessinger had an adventurous weekend in which he seemed to close on Lawrence in his second race before crashing and dropping to fourth. Coupled with a fifth-place finish in Moto 1, he earned 35 points and was credited with fourth overall.

Cashing in on confidence he gained in the final rounds of the Supercross season, Adam Cianciarulo earned his first top-five of the Pro Motocross championship after narrowly missing out last week with a sixth. He earned the distinction with consistent results of fifth in Moto 1 and fourth in Moto 2.

Click here for 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

Hunter Lawrence showed his back to the competition at Hangtown, just as he did the week prior at Fox Raceway. – Align Media

The Lawrence brothers made history last week as the first siblings to win in two Pro Motocross divisions on the same day. Fans should get accustomed to seeing this happen with some regularity as Hunter Lawrence posted identical results in Hangtown to those he had at Fox Raceway in the season opener.

In both races, Lawrence got off to a slow start in Moto 1 and had to claw his way back to the podium. He dominated Moto 2 in both rounds to earn the overall victories.

Justin Cooper did not allow Lawrence to gain much of an advantage in the Motocross points’ standings, however. Finishing second in both motos, the earned only one point less than Lawrence. His modest showing in Round 1 of the outdoor season has him 12 points out of first in the championship standings.

Moto 1 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Moto 2 Results | Lap Chart | Fastest Segment Laps | Consolation Race

Haiden Deegan scored his first moto win in just his fourth start in the series. In the first race of the day, he had to withstand constant pressure from Cooper, but when his teammate closed in on him, Deegan reached down and found a little more speed. Now that he’s won one of these races, he has his sight set on challenging Lawrence for the title. Deegan is second in the Pro Motocross championship standings with a 10-point deficit to the leader.

Haiden Deegan scored podiums in both Motocross rounds of 2023. – Align Media

Tom Vialle tied his career-best finish of fourth overall with a seventh-place finish in Moto 1 and a third in Moto 2. Vialle was fourth last week in overall ranking and has one fourth-place finish in the Supercross series that came in the Triple Crown format at Arlington.

Click here for 250 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

RJ Hampshire rounded out the top five with a pair of fifth-place results and 32 points for the round. Even though the deficit is a whopping 61 points, Hampshire climbed to second in the SuperMotocross championship standings now that Jett Lawrence has moved to the big bikes.

Jalek Swoll struggled last week and finished 21st overall at Fox Raceway. This week, he finished on the cusp of 10th in both races with a ninth in Moto 1 and 11th in Moto 2. In the SuperMotocross standings, he has a lot of ground to make up. He currently sits 49th on the chart with a 70-point gap to Chance Hymas, who is on the bubble to earn a guaranteed position in the SMX Mains for the three playoff races that will be held on September.

2023 Motocross Results

Round 1: Jett Lawrence, Hunter Lawrence win

2023 Supercross Results

Round 17: Chase Sexton, Jett Lawrence win
Round 16: Chase Sexton, RJ Hampshire win
Round 15: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 14: Justin Barcia, Max Anstie win
Round 13: Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence win
Round 12: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 11: Eli Tomac bounces back with sixth win
Round 10: Chace Sexton wins, penalized
Round 9: Ken Roczen wins
Round 8: Eli Tomac wins 7th Daytona
Round 7: Cooper Webb wins second race
Race 6: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Race 5: Webb, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 4: Eli Tomac, Hunter Lawrence win
Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 18: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top
Week 16: Chase Sexton takes SX title
Week 15: Eli Tomac is back on top
Week 14: Justin Barcia, most of top 20, hold steady
Week 13: Barcia leapfrogs the Big Three
Week 12: Eli Tomac gains momentum
Week 11: Cooper Webb, Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
Week 10: Sexton leads with consistency
Week 8: Sexton unseats Tomac
Week 7: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
Week 6: Perfect Oakland night keeps Tomac first
Week 5: Webb, Sexton close gap
Week 4: Tomac retakes lead
Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Sexton falls
Week 1: Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s