The adventures of 23XI Racing, a team that exclusively runs Toyota Camry TRDs in NASCAR’s Cup Series, with drivers Bubba Wallace (No. 23) and Tyler Reddick in the No. 45, will increase in August when World Endurance Championship (WEC) champion and team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing Kamui Kobayashi makes his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The owner of two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 at Daytona victories, in addition to leading the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team’s 2021 overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kobayashi will race the 23XI Racing-entered No. 67 Toyota Camry TRD in this year’s 200 Miles at the Brickyard, on the circuit’s 2.589-mile road course that incorporates parts of the vaunted 2.5-mile oval. The race is part of a doubleheader with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, slated for August 11-13.
The announcement of Kobayashi’s first NASCAR race was made at Circuit de la Sarthe where this year’s centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans is being held. Kobayashi is hoping to help Toyota secure its sixth consecutive victory in the near-summer-solstice twice-around-the-clock classic. While he feels “lucky to be able to race in IMSA the last couple of years,” Kobayashi realizes that NASCAR Cup Series competition is a very different form of competition. “I think the racing technology is at a high level,” he said.
“NASCAR is something different in the culture of motorsports, compared to Japan and Europe – as a driver,” Kobayashi continued, “it’s the American dream. Toyota has been racing in NASCAR for a long time, but I don’t think any other Japanese driver has raced a Toyota in the Cup Series. I’m very proud of this opportunity.” Kobayashi’s entry marks the first time in 20 years a Japanese-born racer will run in the Cup Series. Hideo Fukuyama made a quartet of starts in the Cup Series between 2002 and 2003, albeit with Ford power.
Toyota’s 174 victories in NASCAR Cup Series have come over 17 seasons; it began competing in 2007. Toyota has earned three driver’s championships with Kyle Busch in 2015 and 2019, together with Martin Truex’s 2017 title campaign. In addition, it has claimed three manufacturer championships – 2016, 2017 and 2019 – and in this truly competitive 2023 season, Toyota drivers have accumulated four race wins – with four different drivers, including 23XI Racing driver Tyler Reddick.
Kobayashi’s career began in his home country of Japan, where he won several karting championships. He won a scholarship to join Toyota’s Young Drivers program and made the transition to single-seater race cars. He later went to Europe to continue his single-seater career and was hired as Toyota’s Formula One driver. He made his debut at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix and stayed in F1 through 2014, when he returned to Japan and switched to the Supra Formula Series, where he continues to compete. Kobayashi’s IMSA career has included a single stint with the Lexus GTD Pro program, when he filled in for injured Jack Hawksworth.
“It’s truly an honor to have Kamui want to participate in our NASCAR Cup Series program,” noted David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A., Toyota Racing Development. “Kamui shares the passion for motorsports that all of us at Toyota and TRD U.S.A. live every day, so it will be exciting to show him our NASCAR program – with him behind the wheel of one of our TRD Camrys.”
Of course 23XI Racing isn’t the only NASCAR team to tab a foreign driver to join it for road-course outings in the Cup Series. Trackhouse Racing has its PROJECT91 program that has introduced NASCAR competition to Kimi Raikkonen; Australian Supercars ace Shane van Gisbergen will wheel the team’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in NASCAR’s Chicago street race.