Kimi Raikkonen has already sprayed champagne from the winner’s podium at the Circuit of Americas, while Jenson Button raced Formula 1 at the venue until 2016.
Today Raikkonen and Button will start 22nd and 24th respectively in a 39-car field for their NASCAR Cup Series race at the Austin venue today, Sunday.
Kimi’s victory at was in 2018, when he wore Ferrari red and scored the final victory of his long Formula 1 career at the United States Grand Prix. The Finn is back in Texas, but in a much different car in a much different series with very different racing styles.
Raikkonen and fellow former F1 champion Jenson Button will drive Sunday in NASCAR’s first road course race of 2023. Raikkonen won the F1 championship in 2007. Englishman Button won it two years later. They have 36 career F1 victories between them.
“It’s nice to be back,” Raikkonen said Saturday. “It’s a lovely place here in Texas.”
Raikkonen will driving Trackhouse Racing’s Project91 entry that is designed to give a seat in NASCAR to drivers from others disciplines. Button will drive the No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing.
Many of the regular NASCAR drivers welcome the Europeans.
Ryan Blaney said he wants to meet Button because he was a huge fan as a kid. Cup series leader Joey Logano is impressed they are climbing into cars that must feel unusual.
“We don’t ever get the opportunity to stack up against those guys. They grow up racing completely different cars in different countries,” Logano said. “Put me in an F1 car and I’m going to be lost. It’s great for our sport.”
Raikkonen: In NASCAR, you can have a bit more closer racing than F1
And there’s another “road course ringer” in the field: Sports car driver Jordan Taylor makes his NASCAR debut with Hendrick Motorsports. He qualified fourth driving for injured Chase Elliott, who is still recovering from fractured tibia in a snowboarding accident.
“Jordan is really strong,” said William Byron, a two-time winner this season who qualified in pole position for Sunday. “It’s impressive. The other guys too.”
Some drivers have questioned whether Taylor and the F1 guys really know what they are in for in the the rough-and-tumble racing in the Cup series.
Raikkonen has some experience with that. He made his Cup series debut last season at Watkins Glen, and was competitive until getting run off course on a restart. His race ended with a crash into a tire barrier.
“In F1, open wheels if you touch somebody you usually lose a part or lose a wheel, you can’t really take that risk … In NASCAR, you can have a bit more closer racing,” Raikkonen said. “It makes it exciting I guess at the end of the races when people can be quite aggressive.”
Button said he’s ready for it: “I get to race against 30 other crazy guys out there. I’ll roll with the punches.”
Button noticed some big differences right away in Friday’s practice. First, he forgot how to start the car.
“There were a few other switches I had to put up,” Button said, laughing at himself.
Button: People don’t move out of the way when they’re on a slow lap
Then he had to avoid some heavy traffic: “People don’t move out of the way when they’re on a slow lap, and you’re on a quick lap.”
Button’s NASCAR debut is part of a three-race deal to drive road courses this season. And he’s not done switching things up. He’s already been named one of three drivers for NASCAR’s entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. Taylor will be the backup driver and driver coach for Le Mans.
Button still spends part of the year following F1 as part of Sky Sports broadcast race coverage, revealing it was his wife, Brittny Ward, who nudged him into trying to find an entry into NASCAR. She’s an American and knew more about NASCAR than F1 when they first met over dinner in Los Angeles years ago.
When Button told her he was an F1 driver, Button said she asked, “Is that like NASCAR?’”
“I’m like, ‘It’s just like NASCAR. It’s so similar, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart,’” Button said with a wink.