AVONDALE, Ariz. — The Mar. 26 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., will acquire additional luster with the appearance of former Formula 1 champions Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen.
Button, the 2009 F1 champion, will be driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford, supported by Stewart-Haas Racing, and SHR driver Chase Briscoe believes he’ll benefit from Button’s road course expertise.
“Growing up in a town of 3,000 people and one stop light, I would have never thought in a million years I’d race against an F1 guy, let alone two of them in one race — even be teammates with an F1 World Champion,” said Briscoe, a native of Mitchell, Ind. “It’s going to be really cool for me to get to experience that, get to know Jenson, and just see how he prepares.
“Truthfully, I think on the road course side, he’s going to be able to bring a lot to the table. Last year, I kind of did that in a driver swap with (Haas F1 drivers) Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen. They only ran like five laps apiece at the (Charlotte) Roval. They were within a second of what I was running at pretty much 100 percent.
“So, those guys are such unbelievable road racers that Jenson is going to bring a lot to the table just as far as things to look for and maximize. I’m really excited for that side of it and the opportunity, because it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Button will make his NASCAR debut at COTA before racing on the Chicago Street Course and the Indianapolis Road Course later in the season.
Raikkonen, who won the 2007 F1 title, has one previous start in each of NASCAR’s top three national series and will compete at COTA as part of Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91. The driver from Finland drove the No. 91 Chevrolet last year in the Cup race at Watkins Glen but was collected in a crash on Lap 45.
“It’s going to be cool to have them out there and be a part of our show,” said Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch. “They’re not used to the full contact sport of what NASCAR is.
“I’m sure Kimi’s eyes were opened quite a bit on how all that went down at Watkins Glen. But he’s more ready and more prepared this time around.”
Christopher Bell is enthusiastic about new short-track rules package
Put Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell in the camp of competitors who favor the new lower-downforce competition package NASCAR has introduced for Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Though Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was 24th fastest in Friday’s 50-minute practice session, he was enthusiastic about the way his Camry performed in traffic.
“I don’t know if I’m biased towards it because I really like it, but I made passes in practice that I know that I absolutely wouldn’t have with the old package,” Bell said. “I don’t know. I’m happy. I hope the other drivers feel the same way …
“I felt like I could pass a little easier and I felt like I could maintain my position easier when I was following guys, but we will know more on Sunday.”
Bell, who felt his car lacked short-run speed, was .485 seconds off the pace of Kyle Larson, who topped the speed chart at 131.258 mph (27.427 seconds).
After practice, NASCAR confiscated the hood louvers from the cars of Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, William Byron, Alex Bowman and Josh Berry (subbing for injured Chase Elliott).
NASCAR is taking the single-source parts to its research-and-development center in Concord, N.C., for further evaluation. If any penalties are forthcoming, they will be announced next week.
As of Saturday morning, the hood louvers on all four cars had been replaced.
Josh Berry’s friendship with Chase Elliott predates relief role
When Chase Elliott was injured a snowboarding accident two days before last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it was no surprise that Hendrick Motorsports turned to its Xfinity Series affiliate, JR Motorsports, for a relief driver.
And given the friendship between Elliott and Josh Berry, it was no surprise Berry was the driver picked to fill in while Elliott recovers from a broken left tibia.
“He’s been a friend and supporter of mine for years, even when we go back to my one-off Xfinity opportunities when Chase was there at JR Motorsports,” Berry said.
“He always helped me if I needed it, so I know he’ll be there for me. I’m sure I’ll talk to him. … I feel like I need to get my feet wet and get some laps and then go to him with my experience and get his side of things.”
–By Reid Spencer, Special to Field Level Media