After getting knocked off course and sent through a gravel pit while leading in the early stages of the Johnsonville Sausage 200 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Parker Kligerman rallied late in the race to post a Nationwide Series career-best third-place finish. Kligerman, who started from the third spot, came down pit road to top off with fuel as the field took the green on the lap-33 restart and then began working his way from the 33rd position forward. He had made his way up to the 11th spot when the sixth caution of the day occurred on lap 46 and then advanced seven positions in one lap on the ensuing restart. He advanced into the third position on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and maintained that spot on the second and final attempt to complete the race to pick up his third top-five finish of 2013.
“It was a day filled with adversity, but we came back to finish third — I’m proud of Eric Phillips and all the guys on this race team,” said Kligerman, who led once for four laps. “We made our way into the lead, then got knocked off the track and found ourselves near the back of the field. Through all the restarts, we were able to fight our way back into the top three. I thought maybe we had a shot at getting the win, but we just didn’t have enough for AJ (Allmendinger) at the end. Thanks to Toyota, Bell, Bolle, ButlerBuilt Seats, Bandit Chippers, Nationwide Insurance and most of all the fans. There was a tremendous crowd and I was glad to see it — you could really hear them at the end of the race.”
In Saturday morning’s qualifying session, the Connecticut native equaled his season-best effort, posting the third fastest time, 133.761 seconds at 108.947 mph. On lap 2, he had subsided to fifth as he described his No. 77 Camry as “loose on throttle.” He remained in the fifth spot on lap 5 when a car stopped in Turn 6 brought of the first caution of the race.
Crew chief Eric Phillips summoned his young driver to pit road, where the over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop and made an air pressure adjustment in an attempt to improve the handling of Kligerman’s Camry. With teams on varying pit strategies, the No. 77 was scored in the 27th position for the lap-6 restart.
Three laps later, he had advanced up to the 18th spot when he communicated, “Car is better — I think we have something more for them now.” When the second caution of the race occurred on lap 16, the talented youngster had maneuvered his way up to the seventh spot. When pit road opened, the top-six drivers elected to make stops, but Phillips decided to keep Kligerman on the track knowing he wasn’t inside his fuel window yet.
The former road racer led the field to the stripe for the lap-18 restart and the team’s plan was to pit within a few laps, once they were inside their fuel window. The second-place competitor tucked inside him as the field entered Turn 14 and as he was completing the pass, arched wide in the corner forcing the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) entry into the gravel trap located on the outside of the turn. Kligerman mashed the gas and was able to make his way out of the trap, but lost several spots in the running order.
One lap later, he brought his Toyota down pit road for four tires and a fresh load of fuel. The No. 77 returned to the track scored in the 35th position, then made its way up to the 28th spot when the field was slowed for the third time on lap 31. The team made another four-tire and fuel stop with a wedge adjustment and returned Kligerman to the track. Knowing they were near the rear of the field already, in a fuel-strategy move Phillips summoned his driver to pit road to top off with fuel as the field took the lap-33 restart.
With the help of three cautions over the next 10 laps, Kligerman found himself just outside the top 10 for the lap-48 restart. By the time the field got back to the stripe, he had aggressively maneuvered his way up to fourth spot when the seventh caution of the race slowed the field on lap 49 and set up a green-white-checkered finish.
After the field took the green for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, the talented youngster drove off into Turn 1 on the outside of third-place Brian Vickers and was able to complete the pass as they exited the corner. Before the field could take the white flag, the eighth and final caution would force a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
Leader AJ Allmendinger and second-place runner Justin Allgaier were both questionable on being able to make it to the end on fuel, so Phillips reminded Kligerman “to be on his toes.” The second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish was successful and both cars in front of the No. 77 Camry were able to make it to the finish without running out of fuel. The KBM entry was able to maintain the third spot at the finish of the race and bring home their best result this season.
Allmendinger, making his first Nationwide Series start since 2008, picked up his first career victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions. Allgaier came home in the runner-up spot, 1.372 seconds behind Allmendinger. Kligerman was third, while Australian Owen Kelly and Sam Hornish Jr. rounded out the top-five finishers.
There were eight caution periods totaling 16 laps. Seven drivers led a lap, exchanging the lead 11 times. Seven drivers failed to finish the 53-lap event.
Kligerman’s career-best finish helped him advance two spots to sixth in the Nationwide Series championship standings, 60 points behind series leader Regan Smith. The Kyle Busch owned No. 77 entry advanced three spots to eighth in the owner’s point standings, 118 points behind the series-leading No. 54 team.
Kligerman and his No. 77 Toyota Racing team head to Kentucky Speedway in Sparta June 28 for the Feed the Children 300. Live television coverage of Friday’s 200-lap event begins with NASCAR Countdown at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
-Kyle Busch Motorsports PR