Kamui Kobayashi to add NASCAR Cup Series to his long list of auto racing competitions

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 07: Kamui Kobayashi of Japan poses next to the #67 Toyota Camry TRD car he will drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this year in a press conference ahead of the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe June 7, 2023 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

World-renowned Japanese racer Kamui Kobayashi will add the NASCAR Cup Series to his long list of auto racing competitions – announcing Wednesday he will make his NASCAR debut in the Aug. 13 Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course driving the No. 67 Toyota for 23XI Racing team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

“Obviously, I had very different path in motorsports, but I have always wanted to try NASCAR, it has been my dream’’ Kobayashi told an enthusiastic crowd – that included NASCAR Chairman Jim France and IMSA President John Doonan among other NASCAR dignitaries – Wednesday afternoon at the NASCAR Fan Zone located inside the Le Mans’ Circuit de le Sarthe.

“Actually, my first racing on TV was NASCAR, when I was like four or five years old. … That’s when I said I wanted to be a race car driver.’’

Kobayashi, 36, who now races fulltime in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) is a two-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona IMSA season-opener, has won a pair of WEC season titles, and spent five years in Formula One.

He becomes only the second Japanese driver to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series and first since Hideo Fukuyama, who ran four races between 2002-03 – the last in June 2003.

France said he first had talks with Toyota TRD USA chief executive David Wilson late last year about the idea of having Kobayashi on a NASCAR Cup Series grid and it was well-received by all.

“I got to know Kamui from his IMSA racing with Wayne Taylor then Action Express,’’ France said smiling. He’s such a great guy personally, plus his driving talent to be able to get into a NASCAR car.

“That was kind of a dream for me and it sounds like he had the same dream.”

Kobayashi agreed.

“To compete in motorsports in stock cars in the United States is a big, big dream,” Kobayashi said. “This is something I really want to try.


Wednesday marked the first day of practice and qualifying for Saturday’s “Centenary” running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. German driver Mike Rockenfeller certainly brought the team’s A-game in provisional qualifying turning a fast lap of 3:52.431 around the 8.467-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in the No. 24 Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – his time better than the entire 21-car GTE-AM cars.

The fastest eight cars in each class – Hypercar, LMP2 and GTE AM – advanced to final “Hyperpole” qualifying at 8 p.m. local time Thursday to formally set the top positions in each class.

Photos: NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans Wednesday June 7, 2023