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Kligerman has career-best finish as boss takes first

March 23, 2013, David Caraviello,

Kyle Busch Motorsports driver finishes fourth in Royal Purple 300

FONTANA, Calif. -- Kyle Busch was rolling down the frontstretch after taking the checkered flag Saturday at Auto Club Speedway when he glanced at the scoring tower to see where everyone else had finished. There in fourth place, one bright red number stood out: 77.

Those digits belonged to the car of Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Parker Kligerman, who took advantage of a late four-tire stop and charged to his best finish in a Nationwide Series event.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, cool,'” said Busch, who earned his sixth career Nationwide victory at the 2-mile facility, and the ninth consecutive for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. “That’s really good. They’re certainly working hard over there. Those guys do a lot with a little. But they put it all together today with a fourth. That’s great.”

(View full race results here.)

"It’s a big deal that we’ve come out of the box with a ton of speed and been strong for a brand new team."

-- Parker Kligerman

Kligerman moved to KBM’s Nationwide program in the offseason after splitting 2012 between the Camping World Truck Series outfits of Brad Keselowski Racing and Red Horse Racing, the latter of which he won a race with at Talladega. When the boss moved his Nationwide efforts back over to JGR for this year, Kligerman became the lead driver at a program expected to contend for race victories. So it’s no wonder the 22-year-old Connecticut native wasn’t exactly doing handstands over the result, which topped his previous best of fifth in the season opener at Daytona.

“I wanted to win,” Kligerman said. “I wanted third, at least. But for this team, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal that we’ve come out of the box with a ton of speed and been strong for a brand new team. (Crew chief) Eric (Phillips), this is his first time doing the (Nationwide) deal with KBM. We have one guy left over from the Nationwide program last year, so we’re basically all new. … I think we’re showing people we mean to be here and we’re going to go fight for this championship.”

With the fourth-place finish, Kligerman gained three spots in the standings and is now 56 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr., who was second Saturday. It was a needed result, given that Kligerman had finished 19th and 30th in his previous two starts, despite cars at Las Vegas and Bristol that had speed to run in the top 10. At Fontana he closed the deal, taking four tires on a pit stop when most of the leaders took none, restarting 14th, and rocketing as high as third before Regan Smith overtook him for that spot.

“You want to be talked about, and want to be in the headlines,” said the one-time Penske developmental driver. “As a young driver, it’s imperative. I remember three years ago a very high-up person at a race team I used to drive for told me, ‘It’s all about making headlines. You can never make enough headlines.’ So going out there and being in the top five … and taking a team that maybe hasn’t been as successful and improving on it -- as a young driver, you hope that’s recognized by owners up there in the Cup Series. You hope they’re saying, ‘That kid is a franchise driver.’ A franchise driver elevates an organization on the race track and off commercially, and I want to be one of those.”

Saturday was clearly a step in the right direction, and perhaps more evidence of how KBM has benefitted from a tighter-knit relationship with JGR, for whom Busch competes in both Nationwide and Sprint Cup events. KBM also switched this season to engines built by JGR. JRG’s Sprint Cup engines come from Toyota Racing Development, which does not make Nationwide engines but does supply KBM with technical support.

“With everything that we’ve done over the offseason, we’re gotten a little bit closer with the Gibbs guys as far as information sharing and whatnot,” Busch said. “I’m sure it’s definitely not 100 percent the way we want it to be -- we’re two separate organizations, still. So our guys have to work hard with a little bit less. But still, they’ve accomplished a lot today with running well with Parker. …We’ll keep plugging away at it. It only helps that those guys are getting good runs so they can run up front, so they can see what they need to grow and mature into a top team.”

Saturday, Kligerman certainly did his part. It was a big day all around -- a career-best finish with his 90-year-old grandmother Dottie, who lives in the area, attending her first NASCAR race. To top it off, the boss won. Now, Kligerman sets his sights a little higher.

“We have a thing: beat the 54,” he said,” referring to Busch’s car number. “That’s our mantra. The best way to be respected in this series and this sport is to beat those guys. Beat them clean and outrun them, and you’ve had a good day.”


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