Button got his first seat time at Daytona today in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that Hendrick Motorsports will take to the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
Project leader Chad Knaus explained that Button has already proved a useful addition to the team, given his previous high-level international racing exploits, but his height meant it would provide an additional challenge when it comes to driver changes with the shorter Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.
Unlike European racing series, NASCAR machinery does not have doors, and drivers enter and exit the car through the window.
“[Before today] we’ve had him in the sim, we’ve had him in for driver fitment,” said Knaus. “One of the things that we’re learning pretty quickly is that a NASCAR-style car is not great for driver swaps.
“We’ve got one guy who’s almost 6’ 1” [Button] and one who’s 5’ 8” [Rockenfeller] so that’s a bit of a challenge that we’re working through, and obviously safety is of the upmost importance to us. Getting all of that squared away with the driver change itself.
“Obviously Jenson brings a wealth of knowledge about speed limiters and pit road speeds, buttons and all of those things, he’s going to be a huge asset to us from that perspective.”
Garage 56 driver lineup: Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button
Photo by: James Gilbert / Getty Images
When asked to explain his rationale for adding Button to the roster, Knaus – who scored 81 wins together with Johnson as his crew chief in NASCAR Cup competition – explained he was in a dream scenario to find his “perfect mixture”.
“When it started, we wanted to have guys or gals who we considered to be elite,” he added. “We’ve talked to a lot of different drivers, from a lot of different genres, and ending up where we did is a perfect mixture that you could ever ask for to go drive this thing and represent NASCAR at Le Mans.”
Knaus also revealed that Button was impressed with the size and scale of the Hendrick facility in Concord, NC – which he wanted to see for himself after being sent a video of a drone flying through its headquarters that boasts 17 different buildings.
“Ever since he walked on to campus, he was impressed with what we’ve got,’ said Knaus. “Obviously, under Jeff [Andrews]’s leadership, he’s built a pretty impressive place right there.
“Truth be told, Jenson came to the Sebring test a few weeks ago, he took the redeye out just so he could see and watch, and he looked at the car, sat in the car, and saw what we were doing.
“You could just tell his jaw dropped, he said ‘this is a proper effort right now’. After that, I sent him the hype video where the drone flies through Hendrick Motorsports and he sent me a text back saying, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ I was like ‘yeah man, this is where we work’.”