F1 Vet and Le Mans Winner Kamui Kobayashi to Race in NASCAR Cup Series

Kobayashi's debut is evidence of NASCAR's growing global prestige, and his ties with Toyota landed him at 23XI Racing.
Kamui Kobayashi next to his Toyota Camry NASCAR Cup Series stock car
Getty Images

Kamui Kobayashi, the 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and podium-earning former Formula 1 driver, will make his NASCAR Cup Series debut this August. His presence reaffirms the growing international prestige of the Cup Series, the world’s most prominent stock car racing category.

Kobayashi’s debut will come at the wheel of a 23XI Racing Toyota Camry on August 13 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course event. He has been a Toyota factory wheelman for much of his career, finding his way into F1 through the automaker before transferring to the World Endurance Championship. There, he has won two titles and the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota. He has also won the Daytona 24 twice, a Super GT race, and taken several podiums in Super Formula.

The accomplished Japanese driver follows in the recent footsteps of F1 championship winners Jenson Button and Kimi Räikkönen, both of whom debuted in the Cup Series at road course races within the last year. Kobayashi is only the second Japanese driver to compete at NASCAR’s highest level according to Race Fans; he follows two-time JGTC GT300 champion Hideo Fukuyama who competed in four races across 2002 and 2003.

“I think NASCAR is kind of like baseball,” Kobayashi told Race Fans. “It’s something different in the culture of motorsports compared to Japan and Europe, and it’s NASCAR, and as a driver, it’s an American dream.

“For us, especially the Japanese people, Toyota has been in NASCAR for a while, and I don’t think any other Japanese driver has been in a Toyota racing in the Cup Series. I’m very proud of this opportunity.”

Ironically, Kobayashi will share the track with fellow F1-to-NASCAR alumni Button this weekend at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Brit will race a modified Chevrolet Camaro Cup car, whereas Kobayashi will compete in a Toyota hypercar for the overall win. They may not be racing each other directly, but it’ll be good to see the two go wheel-to-wheel for the first time in almost a decade.

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