Race Weekend Central

Additions of Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button & Jordan Taylor at COTA ‘Great for the Sport’

AUSTIN, Texas — The star-studded NASCAR Cup Series field at Circuit of the Americas with be joined by three stars from beyond NASCAR: 2007 Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen, 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button and three-time IMSA Sportscar champion Jordan Taylor.

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Just about everyone — from the fans, the garage area and the drivers themselves — is grateful to be joined by such elite company.

“It’s obviously great for the sport and everybody to have those guys come over and be a part of it,” Kevin Harvick said.

“I think the eye opener is always just the race, they’re going to go fast and are obviously world-class road racers that bring a lot to the table. [NASCAR’s] a different style of racing than what they’re used to, but yeah, it’s really enjoyable to be able to have the platform and the series to be able to do that.”

Like Harvick, Tyler Reddick also expressed his excitement to be joined by the three.

“It’s very exciting for sure,” Reddick said. “I’m glad that they’re wanting to step in and feel out these heavy stock cars. Certainly, forever jealous and envious of what they’ve been able to do. …

“I’m glad that they’re excited enough to come compete with us and race with us. Certainly, the way we race on a road course isn’t really true road-course racing sometimes, so hopefully everyone races with respect out there; [it] certainly seems to disappear on restarts and the end of these races.”

As someone who grew up watching F1, Ryan Blaney was thrilled for the opportunity to race against some of his childhood favorites. He also took pride in the fact the trio wanted to compete in NASCAR when they had the opportunity to compete just about anywhere else.

“I’m excited to race, obviously I got to meet Kimi last year at [Watkins] Glen,” Blaney said. “Was a big fan of his growing up, big fan of Jenson Button growing up. Taylor, he’s hilarious, I’ve met him a few times and he was really fast today.

“I think it’s awesome. Talked about it a couple weeks ago, these guys coming over, wanting to do it. I think it’s really, really neat that they want to try their hand — they can try any form of motorsport in the world and they want to come try NASCAR.”

Drivers also had high praise for their talent. Daniel Suarez, Raikkonen’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, said that the Finn would be out front in no time with more experience under his belt.

“If Kimi was full time, he would be up there.” Suarez said.

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Raikkonen and Button will be driving for Trackhouse and Rick Ware Racing, respectively. But for Taylor, his NASCAR debut came to fruition by subbing for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car at Hendrick Motorsports.

And while the Cup drivers expressed the honor to race against the three, Taylor returned the favor and noted his excitement to race against the Cup field for the first time.

“Yeah, I mean, these are guys that I’ve been watching my whole life,” Taylor said. “We only race 11 times a year, so we have all these off weekends to watch these guys.

“It’s surreal to come out of the pits and hear Harvick’s behind you, [William] Byron‘s in front of you, [Kyle] Larson‘s up ahead. Hearing those names on the radio still doesn’t kind of feel like that’s actually that guy in that car, but it’s still kind of surreal.”

Taylor, Raikkonen and Button will start fourth, 22nd and 24th, respectively, for Sunday’s (March 26) EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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