By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
With NASCAR electing for no stage cautions at road courses this year, it created various strategies across the field, including three overtime attempts at the finish for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.
For Jenson Button, it was the learning experience of a lifetime.
“The pace was good, consistency was good,” Button shared after the 75 lap feature. “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. I also had a massive whack from Kimi [Räikkönen], 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.”
With the experience came a wave of emotions, but first was figuring out how to apply that learning experience on the go surrounding the 20-turn configuration.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Button continued. “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. The first stint was really bad – it was embarrassing for me.
“I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’”
But as the day continued, the international champion discovered his way around the circuit more competitively and found himself in prime position in the closing laps. The fight quickly switched from the track and the competitors to the humid and hot atmosphere.
“Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion,” he shared. “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… nine bottles of water during the race.”
In the end, it was truly a team effort from Rick Ware Racing and the No. 15 pit crew as they continued to grind. As other drivers spun, made contact or crashed out of the race, they found themselves well inside the top 20 to best more than half the field when the checkered flag flew. For Button, it was all smiles as he looks forward to his next Cup start on the streets of Chicago.
“The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end.”