Parker Kligerman and the No. 77 Camp Horsin’ Around/Bandit Chippers Camry Racing team didn’t have the best of nights in Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, but in the end driver and crew scratched and clawed their way to a solid 12th-place finish. Kligerman battled an ill-handling Toyota for the majority of the 200-lap event, but a combination of chassis adjustments administered over the course of six pit stops improved the drivability of his Toyota in closing stages and the end-result allowed the talented youngster to move up two spots, to sixth, in the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver point standings.
“The Camp Horsin’ Around/Bandit Chippers Camry was just wrecking-loose in the early stages, but we just grinded it out, had good pit stops and came out of it with a 12th-place finish,” said Kligerman, who was making his second career Nationwide Series start at Texas. “We had a really good qualifying effort and came into the race optimistic that we had a great piece, so Eric (Phillips, crew chief) and I were just caught off guard. It was so bad, that we thought we had something broken — similar to the problem we had at Las Vegas, but it turned out not to be. I’m proud of the effort of this whole team — we never gave up and it turned out to be a good points day. If we can take a day like this where we really had a 25th-place car at one point and get out of here almost in the top-10 — that’s what wins championships.”
The No. 77 Camry took the green flag from the eighth position, but by the time the 10th lap completed had fallen to 15th as Kligerman communicated that he was “wrecking-loose.” When a one-car spin brought out the first caution of the night on lap 24, the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) entry was scored in the 18th position. Crew chief Eric Phillips summoned his driver down pit road, where the over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop and made a major track bar adjustment.
Kligerman took the lap-30 restart from the 30th position, but quickly moved back towards the top 20. Five laps into the run, the Connecticut native reported that his Toyota was still “extremely loose” and that he was feeling a vibration underneath him. Another one-car spin slowed the field for the second time on lap 40 and the Camp Horsin’ Around/Bandit Chippers team took advantage of the caution to examine the underside of their car. After determining that there were no malfunctions visible, the team returned their driver to the track scored in the 29th spot for the restart on lap 49.
The No. 77 Toyota ran just outside the top 15 as the race progressed, with Phillips and crew making a variety of chassis and air pressure adjustments with each pit stop, hoping to hit on something that would give their driver more stability. Shortly after a four-tire stop on lap 121, Kligerman communicated that his Camry was beginning to come to life.
Over the course of the next 50 laps, the talented youngster began advancing forward and by the time the final caution of the race occurred on lap 167, he had made his way into the top 10 for the first time since the first lap. With a fresh set of Goodyear tires available, Kligerman came down pit road for the final time. The over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop and made an air pressure adjustment to try and give their driver more forward drive off the corners. He was scored in the 13th spot for the lap-171 restart and one lap later advanced to 12th, where he would remain for the final 28 laps.
KBM owner Kyle Busch in his Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy machine became the first driver in Nationwide Series history to win four out of the first six races of the season. The win was his series-leading 55th career triumph, his track-record sixth in the Nationwide Series at Texas Motor Speedway and the 110th of his career in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski finished 2.272 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up position. Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five finishers.
There were eight caution periods for 42 laps. Eleven drivers led a lap, exchanging the lead 22 times. Six drivers failed to finish the race.
Kligerman and the No. 77 team, who moved up two spots to eighth in the Nationwide Series owner’s point standings, will enjoy a week off before heading to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for the ToyotaCare 250 on April 26. Live television coverage of the 250-lap event begins with NASCAR Countdown Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS.