Monday, May 27, 2024

Kamui Kobayashi after NASCAR debut: “This is a dream come true”

Kamui Kobayashi certainly hoped his NASCAR Cup Series début could have gone better, but it did not leave him with a bitter taste.

The two-time FIA World Endurance Champion ran his maiden NASCAR race on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but found himself running off course or in the wrong direction more times than he’d like due to circumstances beyond his control. He was spun by fellow sports car racer Andy Lally in turn one after just two laps, which placed him on the Damaged Vehicle Policy shortly after the caution came out for Justin Haley‘s wreck.

Kobayashi’s team was able to get the car back out in time, only for him to be the victim of yet another shunt courtesy of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 66. He spent the final sixteen laps trying to make up lost ground and finished thirty-third, one lap behind winner Michael McDowell.

Despite the disappointing finish, Kobayashi felt his #67 Toyota Camry showed solid pace. After qualifying twenty-eighth, he generally ran in that position but he believed further progress was hindered by the lack of cautions. The race only had a single yellow flag for the aforementioned Haley crash, the fewest for a full-length Cup race since 2002.

“I was waiting for a caution. It never happened,” said Kobayashi. “I definitely enjoyed it. 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.”

While ending on a sour note, he enjoyed the ride and said “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.”

The #67 was fielded by 23XI Racing for just the second time in their history after running the Daytona 500 in February with Travis Pastrana. Although the car has no further starts planned as of now, Kobayashi is open to returning and stressed, “I want to come back.”

Kobayashi was the second Japanese native to compete in the Cup Series after Hideo Fukuyama in 2002 and 2003; incidentally, Sunday’s race was on Fukuyama’s 68th birthday. Truck Series part-timer Akinori Ogata, the only other Japanese driver to race in a national series in 2023, was on the broadcast crew at Indianapolis for GAORA TV.

Fellow Formula One alumnus Jenson Button finished twenty-eighth. Mike Rockenfeller, who was Button’s team-mate at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June and worked with Kobayashi at Cadillac in IMSA, was twenty-fourth.