Kamui Kobayashi says his first NASCAR race was ‘a dream come true’

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 13: Kamui Kobayashi, driver of the #67 Toyota Genuine Parts Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

He might have finished the deepest in the field of any of the international drivers in Sunday’s road course race at Indy but Kamui Kobayashi seemed to have a good time.

The Japanese driver made his debut Sunday starting in 28th place. He was spun twice the first early in the race after coming together with Andy Lally, the second time late in the going when he and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. coming into Turn 1.

When it was over, Kobayashi was smiling, a little.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 13: Jenson Button, driver of the #15 Mobil 1 Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“First of all, I was waiting for a caution,” he said. “It never happened.

“I definitely enjoyed it. Thank you. 77 laps, no caution is pretty long – I think I learned a lot. We had some good speed, as well. I got hit by someone, but this is NASCAR. But the racing in the field was great. It’s a really cool championship – I had a great experience here. Thank you to all of the support from Toyota, Toyota Gazoo Racing North America. This is a dream come true.”

As for his future in NASCAR?

“After a one race experience this is a good championship,” he said. “I want to come back.”

Jenson Button made his second NASCAR start. He too spun a couple of times and at the end of the day was scored, 28th after starting 31st.

“It’d be nice just to get a finish,” he said. “The pace is there. It’s just that I made mistakes today. The car was working well. Yesterday was frustrating just because we didn’t have any pace. Today, the guys did a really good job of finding a setup that worked for me. I could brake later, so I could make a lot of moves.

“I can’t imagine how many cars I actually overtook during the race. But at the end of the first pit-stop, I was speeding into pit-lane. So, I had to do a drive-through. Kills your race – about 30 seconds in pit-lane. So, it sets you back a lot, and then when I made a move on someone – I think [Ricky]

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 13: Brodie Kostecki, driver of the #33 Mobile X Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Stenhouse Jr. – he spun me around and it cost me a bit more time. It wasn’t great.

“Then pushing to the end to chase down Kevin [Harvick], I locked up and went straight across the grass in Turn 1. So, had to do a stop-and-go. It was messy. But, the pace was there. It was really good. I think we had the third or fourth quickest lap of the race? So, went really well. Just a disappointing result. I enjoyed it. Lots of overtaking, wheel-to-wheel banging as you could probably see by the car.”

Supercars driver Brodie Kostecki started at the rear of the field in a backup car but finished 22nd.

“My team worked extremely hard on Saturday to get the backup car ready after my crash in qualifying,” he said. “At the start of the race, I took a few laps to feel out my braking zones and the car itself. I followed the No. 24 car for a few laps to watch his line and pick up any techniques. We were having an okay day coming through the field.

“We were playing the strategy game throughout the race and didn’t get any cautions late, so we were off sequence with the top-15 guys. I believe we got as high as 17th. Getting to race around these NASCAR guys this weekend was truly special. I felt comfortable out there. The team gave me the tools I needed to race hard, and I can’t wait to do it again. It is a special feeling to finish 22nd at one of the most famous racetracks in the world in my NASCAR Cup Series debut.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – AUGUST 12: Mike Rockenfeller (#42 LEGACY MOTOR CLUB Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet) drives through turn eight during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on August 12, 2023, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

German driver Mike Rockenfeller was called in at the last minute to take over for Noah Gragson at Legacy Motor Club this week. Sunday was the first of two races for the IMSA regular. He will race the car at Watkins Glen next week. He started 37th and finished 24th. Chase Elliott who finished second was held up by Rockenfeller late in the race.

“I think I didn’t do a great job on my end, we didn’t have the best car, that’s for sure, but we made small progress and learned a lot for next week,” he said. “The big mistake was clearly my speeding in pit lane which shouldn’t have happened. Leaving the pits I basically saw the lines and realized I should have gone at the other lines so that wasn’t very good. So that was bad, and we got a drive through which cost us a lot of time.

“I think our pace was okay, but at the end I can only say sorry if I was holding up the No. 9 there a little bit. I tried not to, I know they were not very happy so I’m sorry for that. I will look into that. I did what the team asked me to do; go by the No. 47 to be the lucky dog if there was a yellow, which I did, and as soon as I did that, I let Chase go. I mean, I saw him in my mirror close, but again, I need to learn that, and that’s the least thing I wanted to do was to hold him up from trying to win the race. Especially with my connection with Hendrick and the past we had. I can only say sorry, but in my opinion, I had good pace and it’s not like I was holding him up. If he had been closer, I would have moved like I did for Michael.”

All eyes, however, were on Shane van Gisbergen, Kosteckl’s fellow Supercars driver who won in his NASCAR debut at Chicago in July. He started 8th and finished 10th. He said he had fun.

“It’s just a battle of good drivers,” he said. “It was with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell there. Unfortunately, they came out in front of me on that last pit stop. Great to get another Top-10 for the Enhance Chevy, and Project 91. We had fun all weekend. Hopefully can come back and do it all again.”

He said the challenge on the Indy road course was greater than he saw on the streets of Chicago.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 13: Shane Van Gisbergen, driver of the #91 Enhance Health Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 13, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It’s hard here because everyone’s on it,” he said. “Everyone knows the track and there’s a lot more room for error. Everyone’s racing aggressively. I can’t thank the Project 91 guys here enough for the Enhance Chevy. So much fun to be back. Hopefully can do more. Had an awesome battle with Kyle (Larson) and Christopher (Bell) there. They got the better of me at the end, but battling with those guys was great.”

With the possibility of coming to NASCAR in 2024, van Gisbergen used Sunday as a learning experience adding that he learned a lot about racing in NASCAR’s Cup series.

“It’s aggressive, but it’s fair,” he said. “I put a block on the 48, and the next corner he just moved me. I guess I deserved that. The racing was fun. I really enjoyed it. All the battling when you go through a move on someone, they give you room. They expect it back. Really cool.”

It ends a week for the Australian that included a Truck series race Friday night. His first race ever on an oval.

“It’s been an amazing week,” he said. “I can’t thank Justin Marks and the Trackhouse team enough for giving me this opportunity. I learned a lot in the Truck on Friday night, and to get to come here and race again. Although a top-10 is awesome, expectations are high because of the last race. I just have to realize a top-10 is still pretty good.”

Greg Engle