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NASCAR at COTA Is Tough, Even If You’ve Won Monaco or Le Mans

It doesn't matter if you're a seasoned stock car driver or a F1 world champion—the NASCAR Cup Series is hardnosed.
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Whoever thinks NASCAR is easy should listen to the pros. When champions from other disciplines, including Formula 1, struggle to stay on the lead lap at a road course like Circuit of The Americas, clearly it’s tougher than keyboard warriors would have you believe. Just ask Jenson Button, who called Sunday’s Cup Series race “terrible” and an “emotional rollercoaster.” Or look to Corvette Racing driver Jordan Taylor, who moonlighted in the No. 9 Chevy Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports and said the Next Gen car will “use you up.”

Button, the 2009 F1 champion, fared better than some with an 18th-place finish. It didn’t come easy, and he’s the first to admit that. While the new Cup Series race car is relatively modern with independent rear suspension and a sequential gearbox, you still have to wrestle it.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Button said. “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.”

That physicality is something Jordan Taylor harped on as well. He’s used to racing sportscars like Corvettes and IMSA prototypes, so he’s more accustomed to contact than his open-wheel counterparts. The Le Mans class winner’s experience elsewhere in the racing world wasn’t enough to fully prepare him for Sunday’s race at COTA, though, where he finished 24th.

“It was definitely wild,” Taylor exclaimed. “I wouldn’t say I survived. I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed front, rear, side, so it was pretty much just survival. I felt like guys knew that I would probably be a bit hesitant, so they would take advantage of us.”

Taylor filled in for Chase Elliott in a No. 9 car that was exceptionally quick. He proved his speed by qualifying in 4th place, the highest starting position for any Cup Series newbie since 1999. He displayed that same type of performance in clean air with minimal traffic, but it became increasingly tougher when other drivers started battling for position at the 3.41-mile circuit.

“On the sports car side, you’ve got to be a little more gentle, and these cars are definitely robust, and they’ll use you up,” Taylor said. “Just an experience thing that I definitely wasn’t ready for, but it’s good to get it in my back pocket.”

Last, but not least, was Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 drivers’ champion who made his Cup Series debut at Watkins Glen last August. The Finn gave COTA a crack in the No. 91 Chevy Camaro ZL1 run by Trackhouse Racing. Raikkonen has achieved success at the Texas track before, taking the top step there at the 2018 United States F1 Grand Prix while driving for Ferrari. This past weekend didn’t bring the same great result, however, as Kimi managed 29th. He was the last driver to finish on the lead lap.

There’s no telling if or when Raikkonen and Taylor will return to NASCAR’s top tier, but Button is slated to compete at the Cup Series’ inaugural Chicago street course race in July.

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