There have been a lot of changes in NASCAR over the last few years, with nearly all of them being labeled a success. One of the more notable changes has been the schedule, specifically the types of racing. Until recently, the only road courses that appeared on the schedule were Watkins Glen and Sonoma. With those making up only two of the 36 races, there was no sense of urgency to perform.

Most drivers did not see the value of investing their time into fine-tuning their craft for that type of racing. The road course specialists like Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Andy Lally, Marcos Ambrose, Max Papis, and Jacques Villeneuve were able to easily find work, and they were able to outrun the best Cup drivers in the garage.

The game has certainly changed. With an emphasis on road and street course racing, drivers have had no choice but to work on their skillset. There are six non-oval races on the schedule this year, including the new street race in downtown Chicago. One lies in the second round of the Playoffs, and each one of those is an opportunity for a driver to punch their ticket to the postseason.

Two of the modern-day road course specialists will be in the Cup race this weekend at Circuit of The Americas. These two have credentials the sport has never seen before, with all due respect to the drivers that came before them.

Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button are both Formula One World Champions. Raikkonen won the 2018 United States Grand Prix while driving for Ferrari. He will make his second career start with Trackhouse Racing, whom he made his debut with last season at Watkins Glen.

Button has never won at COTA, or even led a lap at the track, but has finished 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, and 12th in his five starts in Austin. The 2009 World Champion is making his first career Cup start this weekend for Rick Ware Racing, in partnership with Stewart Haas Racing. This is the first of three planned races for him this season, with the others coming at Chicago (street course) and Indianapolis (IMS road course) this summer.

Raikkonen and Button have combined to score 36 F1 victories, 153 podium finishes, and three championships in 656 career starts. As they prepare for this event, the expectations don’t involve a lot of pressure, but they are still extremely competitive. Driving a drastically different type of car in a completely new set of circumstances is the challenge.

These two do have a lot experience at this track, comparative to the rest of the garage, as NASCAR has only raced at COTA twice. Their familiarity with the racing line and sheer driving talent will be enough to keep them near the front of the field. They also won't have to race against one of the best road racers in the series, as Chase Elliott remains sidelined after his leg surgery.

Even so, that car will still have a top-tier driver in the seat. Hendrick Motorsports has tapped IMSA champion Jordan Taylor to drive the No. 9 car next weekend. Taylor has much more experience in this type of car than the two Formula One veterans. His car will be fast, and it shouldn't take him long to get up to speed. Between these three drivers (and the additions of Jimmie Johnson and Conor Daly) there will be plenty of storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.