MOORESVILLE, N.C. – In his first full-time campaign in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Parker Kligerman has quietly put together a solid start to the 2013 season. Kligerman has improved nine spots in the championship standings over the last five races and currently resides in the fourth position entering Friday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. With eight of 33 races completed, the 22-year-old finds himself in the early championship hunt amongst three former Sprint Cup Series regulars – Regan Smith (1st), Sam Hornish Jr. (2nd) and Elliott Sadler (5th) – and a perennial contender in his fifth full-time season in NASCAR’s second division, Justin Allgaier (3rd).
Kligerman and his single-car No. 77 Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) operation have stuck to their plan of limiting mistakes and producing consistent finishes in the first quarter of the season, as they battle against mostly multi-car teams, many of which also compete in the Sprint Cup Series or have Cup affiliations. Under the guidance of crew chief Eric Phillips, who is also in his first full-time season in the Nationwide Series, the Connecticut native has posted two top-five and four top-10 finishes. After hiccups in weeks two and three of the season, the team has strung together a five-race stretch where they have finished 12th or better each time out. Included in that stretch, was a fourth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. with the same Camry that they will unload this weekend, KBM-11.
The talented youngster has one prior start at Darlington, posting a 14th-place finish in the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the egg-shaped oval. Phillips has a little more experience, calling the shots for three Truck Series events at the venue dubbed “Too Tough to Tame.” With Kasey Kahne behind the wheel of KBM’s No. 18 Tundra for the 2011 event, the veteran signal caller proved that the challenging track can be handled, leading 95 of 147 laps en route to victory.
With Phillips and veteran spotter Earl Barban in his ear on Friday night, Kligerman will be constantly reminded to abide by the age-old adage “race the track and not the cars around you.” With just seven markers standing between him and Allgaier for third-place in Nationwide Series standings, another solid finish will help in his efforts to continue ‘moving on up’ the rankings and prove that he is a viable contender for the 2013 championship.
Parker Kligerman, Driver of the No. 77 NNS Toyota Camry:
You made one Truck Series start at Darlington. Did you get your Darlington stripe? “I actually did get my Darlington stripe, but it was only because another driver ran into me going into Turn 1. Other than that, we were able to avoid the wall and had a top-10 run going with a truck that we probably shouldn’t have been racing there. It was a normal experience for your first time at Darlington, in terms of being a bit of a rougher weekend. We were running in the top 10 most of the night, but ended up 14th because we got put in the wall. I really like the place and I’m excited to being go back there. The track has a ton of history and is so iconic in NASCAR in terms of places you get excited to go to.”
You will be unloading the same Camry that you finished fourth with at California. Does that give you a confidence boost even though Darlington is a much different track? “I think so, a lot of our later-generation Camrys here at Kyle Busch Motorsports are very similar. There are little subtle differences between them, but any time that you have a good experience with one car — in terms of running well and getting a good finish — it gives you more confidence that it has speed. You know it has the right downforce and such, so, you can go out and focus on making it drive right and getting around the race track, instead of evaluating where your car is at.
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 77 NNS Toyota Camry:
What are the pros and cons of practicing, qualifying and racing all in the same day? “Doing the Truck Series for so many years, we’ve done a lot of one-day shows and I seem to like them. If you unload well and things go well, it’s a good thing. Your guys are at the race track less time — you do your thing and get out. On the other hand, if you unload and you are way off, it makes for a long day.”
Darlington is a tough track, what can you do as a crew chief to help your driver? “The biggest thing is that you have to give the driver something that is comfortable. Everybody preaches about racing the race track, so giving your driver a car that has a good grip level and still has some speed in it is the best thing you can do for him. If you have a car that is comfortable to drive, you’ll be fast over the long runs.”
Parker Kligerman’s No. 77 Toyota Camry:
KBM-11: KBM-11 will make its second start of the 2013 season in Friday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200. In its first start of 2013, Kligerman posted a series-best fourth-place finish with the Camry in March at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The Toyota raced four times in 2012, capturing the pole in its debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. last September and posting two top-five and three top-10 finishes.