Jenson Button, Jordan Taylor go the distance in full-contact day at COTA
AUSTIN, Texas — Jenson Button and Jordan Taylor were able to share a moment together after Sunday’s race at Circuit of The Americas. Both drivers were smiling after making it to the checkered flag in their NASCAR Cup Series debuts, but showing some wear after a hefty share of roughhousing with the stock-car tour’s regulars.
Button, the 2009 Formula 1 champion, finished 18th in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix with a Rick Ware Racing effort supported by Stewart-Haas Racing and Mobil 1. Taylor, the IMSA standout subbing for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, drove to 24th place after a late scramble of overtime restarts dropped him in the running order.
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The two have roles on the Garage 56 effort that will bring a NASCAR-themed presence to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and on Sunday, they shared finishes on the lead lap. But they also left Austin with a common impression about the bare-knuckled and full-contact nature of the competition.
“I mean, the aggression definitely caught me off guard. I think I had more contact today in one race than probably my entire career combined,” said Taylor, who started fourth. “I honestly didn’t know how the car was still driving straight after at the end, so the cars are strong, Hendrick Motorsports builds us a strong, safe race car and it was fast. Yeah, just disappointed we couldn’t give them kind of the day they deserved.”
Racing with respect — or rather, without it — has been a topic in NASCAR circles in recent weeks, and Kyle Busch was among the most vocal in saying the sense of dignity among the current crop of racers has been lost. Taylor and Button experienced some of that Sunday at the 3.41-mile road course, especially the madcap restarts as the field barreled into the sharp, uphill first turn.
Taylor said as a NASCAR newcomer, “I’m probably the wrong guy to ask” regarding how cutthroat on-track conduct should be officiated. Sunday, he absorbed the contact with a sense of bewilderment.
“Yeah, honestly, I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life. I mean, if someone came over the sports car side and did that, it would be like, ejected out of the race immediately,” Taylor said, mimicking an umpire with an upward ‘you’re out’ sweep of his thumb. “So for me, I should have probably expected that, just watching years past, but I think when you’re actually in the car getting smashed around, it’s a much different experience.
“I think, even when you’re battling for 29th position, they don’t care. They’ll go for 28th and just use you up. So just a different form of racing that I guess I wasn’t used to and probably should have expected. But yes, it’s still cool to get my first Cup race’s debut. Just wish it would have been a little bit better.”
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Button’s day placed him in the top half of the finishing order, even after a late stop for ice and water near the end as he weathered the heat of the Texas afternoon. He has two more Cup Series races planned with the team — July 2 at Chicago and Aug. 13 at Indianapolis.
“Not yet. I need to rest,” Button said when asked about his readiness for Chicago. “I’m gonna go and cuddle my wife and the kids and lay down by the pool. But what a lovely opportunity. Thank you so much to Mobil 1 and Rick Ware Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing for getting me up to speed, finishing 18th at my first race when I got hit on every corner or I hit someone every corner. I’m kind of happy with that and lots to take away from this, and lots to improve on as well, so I look forward to that challenge. So thank you, Austin, thank you, NASCAR, and see you in Chicago.”