Kligerman plays NASCAR version of Moneyball
June 13, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
A quick look at the top of the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings reveals some trends. There are lots of drivers for multicar teams. There are lots of drivers for teams with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series affiliations.
Then there’s Parker Kligerman. For a guy who spends so much time studying the sport’s trends, it’s interesting that the 22-year-old Kligerman is the one breaking them this season.
In sixth place with 385 points through 12 races, Kligerman is the only driver in the top 10 driving for a one-car operation. His Kyle Busch Motorsports team also has no team affiliation at the Sprint Cup level.
“There’s only one way for a team like ours, a small team without Cup resources, to compete. The only way we can compete is to be smart, to be methodical,” Kligerman said before the past weekend’s race at Iowa Speedway. “We have to understand exactly what it takes to go out there and perform well. And to know when we aren’t having the top-fives and top-10s, that we’re close to being exactly where we need to be.”
KBM sponsored a Nationwide Series car, the No. 54, for the first time last year. Kyle Busch drove it for 22 races and his older brother, Kurt, drove it for 11 races. This year, Kyle Busch opted to hire Kligerman, an up-and-comer, to a full season in the No. 77. Busch himself still drives the 54 in a hefty part-time schedule, but it’s under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner.
Busch hired Kligerman in the offseason after watching him excel in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2012, a year in which Kligerman won his first NASCAR national series race and had 15 top-10s in 22 races.
The Connecticut-born driver is young and hip. He wears audacious sunglasses and, when making major announcements -- like that he’s driving for KBM, or that he has a new sponsor for the race in New Hampshire -- Kligerman takes a video camera, makes a brief film and posts it on YouTube.
His interest in NASCAR is rooted deep, though. At the heart of his history is the study of data.
Kligerman spits off statistics as if he spent hours poring over them, which he does. He speaks to the history of the sport through numbers as if he’s researched it, which he has.
“In this sport statistics, to me, mean a lot,” Kligerman said. “You can learn a lot through statistics. A lot of people call it ‘Moneyball’ theory. I’m a huge believer in all that. It’s something in our sport that over the next few years is going to become of a higher focus, especially in the Cup Series, and will eventually trickle down.”
It’s the data that tells Kligerman not to worry too much about being 63 points behind points leader Regan Smith. Instead, the driver is more worried about making up ground on second-place Sam Hornish Jr.
“Every single championship year, besides the year Kevin Harvick won a championship with a 4.6 average finish, it’s taken anywhere from a 7.8-10.0,” Kligerman says. “With this many people in it (this year), it’s going to take anywhere from a 9.0-10.0, and Regan has a 7.2. So his average finish will come back, and we’re all kind of sitting where he’ll come back to.
“And the 7 car has had no problems. He’s not had one bad race. So, a lot of people say we’re 56 points out (at the time). Well, we’re not. I look at the 12 car (of Hornish) as the car we’re fighting against.”
The numbers come off the top of Kligerman’s head, and they check out. It’s clear this is something the driver has thought out and believes in.
The confidence wasn’t lost on Kyle Busch -- a confident man himself -- when he made the hire.
It’s not lost on Eric Phillips, either. The crew chief of the No. 77 is in his first Nationwide Series season. He had 27 wins as a crew chief over eight years and 208 races in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I think the biggest thing for us this year is trying to understand the cars and understand each other,” Phillips said. “I’ve had to learn how the Nationwide Series car works. Also with me and Parker, it’s determining what his wants are, the feel he’s looking for. That’s been the biggest thing.”
Figuring out each other simply takes time. What made Phillips so successful in the Truck Series, in part, was the notebook he had full of data from running so many races.
There’s only one way to compensate for starting over in a new series.
“I think it’s just hard work and determination,” Phillips said. “The guys here at the shop, every one of them is pulling together. I think we have to work harder and smarter than everyone else. Yeah, they all have so many resources, and it’s definitely a disadvantage for us, but we have to try to beat them. Sitting around and and moping about it doesn’t do anything.”