2021 Le Mans winner Kobayashi to race NASCAR with Toyota

James Moy Photography/Getty Images

Yesterday, Le Mans hopefuls hit the French circuit to practice and qualify for this year’s 24-hour contest. With the race quickly approaching, media members were already swarming drivers, microphones and lenses at the ready. One of the world’s top road racers and winner of the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kamui Kobayashi, took the opportunity to drop some news.

Alongside NASCAR chairman and CEO, Kobayashi announced that he would make his first NASCAR attempt later this summer. On August 13, 2023, the 36-year-old Japanese driver will trade the button-covered yolk of a prototype Toyota racer for the steering wheel of a Camry stocker, competing with 30-some other good ol’ boys at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

toyota gazoo racing nascar kamui kobayashi le mans 2023 announcement
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

His team isn’t some lame-duck outfit either. Kobayashi will drive a third entry for 23XI racing, a North Carolina–based outfit co-owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan and Cup star Denny Hamlin. Earlier this year, stunt star Travis Pastrana successfully qualified for the Daytona 500 with this part-time group.

To the casual motorsport fan, this may seem like second-page news. It’s not. Kobayashi’s NASCAR debut will mark yet another unconventional driver this year to strap into a stock car. This season alone, Jensen Button, Jordan Taylor, and Kimi Räikkönen have made attempts at NASCAR’s highest level. It appears as though the Cup Series’ Next Gen car, with its sequential shifter, independent rear suspension, and low profile tires—all components also present in GT cars—is piquing the interest of road racing’s top talent. Who might we see next?

Kobayashi’s announcement also highlights the awkward position in which NASCAR put itself when it signed with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports to field a stocker for Le Mans’ experimental Garage 56 entry. That decision reportedly didn’t sit right with Toyota. NASCAR’s attempt to infiltrate Le Mans would surely be mentioned to a manufacturer that has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall the past five years, right? Think again.

Le Mans Test Day toyota gazoo racing toyota gr010 hybrid kobayashi 2023
June 4, 2023 — The #07 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Jose Maria Lopez in action at the Le Mans Test. James Moy Photography/Getty Images

NASCAR held the Kobayashi news until Le Mans weekend and made the announcement in front of a Camry stocker festooned in Gazoo Racing stickers. “It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.”

More immediately, Kobayashi will focus on this weekend at Le Mans, where he serves as team principal for Toyota Gazoo’s two-car team.

toyota gazoo racing nascar kamui kobayashi le mans 2023 announcement
Getty Images




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    Was he faced with tough decisions with no possible positive outcome… you’re as big of a nerd as I am if you get it

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