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At last, Kligerman has time on his side

January 06, 2013, David Caraviello,

KBM signing lets Kligerman focus on Nationwide Series

Parker Kligerman spent a few days last month at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, testing his new race car on the landing strip once used by space shuttles. He went out again and again in straight-line runs to confirm aerodynamic wind-tunnel findings on a concrete strip that measures 15,000 feet long and sometimes needs to be cleared of sunbathing alligators.

Like all testing, it could be seen as drudge work. But to Kligerman, it was symbolic of something else: the time he has to build his new NASCAR Nationwide Series program with Kyle Busch Motorsports, an unusual luxury for a driver who has been more accustomed to deals coming together at the last minute.

“The coolest thing is being able to build the program,” said Kligerman, a 22-year-old Connecticut native. “That’s what it’s all about. The time allows you to do things like go straight-line testing, which you don’t do unless you have a program you’re serious about -- improving your aero situation, improving your body, improving what you see in the wind tunnel. Those things take time. That’s the only way to accomplish them.”

"This is an opportunity, as a young driver, you just don’t pass up."

-- Parker Kligerman

Offseason testing may sound routine, but very little has been routine to a driver who has already bounced around a bit in his short time in NASCAR. For KBM, Kligerman’s hiring marks the organization’s first attempt at fielding a full-time driver on the Nationwide tour, a model it’s also following on the Camping World Truck Series side with Joey Coulter. For the driver, though, the new ride brings needed stability, particularly after a 2012 season split between two teams and a career spent waiting for seats to materialize.

KBM announced Kligerman’s hiring Dec. 18, soon afterward pairing him with crew chief Eric Phillips -- a 17-time race winner in the Truck Series -- in a No. 77 car. Since moving into NASCAR, Kligerman said he has never had his plans for the following season finalized so early.

“Since I’ve been in the stock-car ranks, it’s not been a great time in our economy and in our sport, so there have not been many things that have been decided very early,” he said. “So everything’s kind of waiting to the last second, and then people kind of commit to the last second. No one wants to commit too early, because they’re unsure of what’s going to happen. That’s one of the coolest things, having everything solidified so early, and being able to work with the team early enough.”

He hopes having that lead time will pay off once the season begins, potentially allowing his team to improve the program week-to-week rather than play catch-up. But Kligerman also realizes that, although the owner always has high expectations, this is essentially a start-up program for a team that turned out its first Nationwide vehicles only last year. That car won just once, despite Kyle and Kurt Busch splitting time behind the wheel.

“We have to be realistic about the start of the season,” Kligerman said. “I think when you look at that, you just want to have solid finishes and things to build on. You can work on your race cars, find the things they need, and hopefully as the season goes on and you build new race cars, you can start to see some of the fruition of your efforts. Eventually, you hope you’re at the point end of the field and fighting for wins. (If) you do that, I feel there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re solidly going to put yourself in the top five in points. And if you’re in the top five in points, historically, you probably have a shot at the championship. That’s the way I look at it.”

The potential certainly seems there, particularly with a driver who posted solid numbers in the Camping World Truck Series last year despite a midseason change in teams. Kligerman started the first 11 events for Brad Keselowski Racing, but was released in August. He signed with Red Horse Racing, and ended the year with a blitz of top-10s that included his first victory: a win at Talladega. Kligerman said the option was there to stay at Red Horse and run for the Truck Series title, but when the KBM offer came he had no choice but to leave.

“This is an opportunity, as a young driver, you just don’t pass up,” he said. “I told the Red Horse guys, even if we went out there and won 10 races and won the championship, I’m not sure this opportunity (at KBM) would still be there. … Even if it’s not perfect, with this kind if opportunity, you feel like if you can just make it a little better than it is, you can really make something happen.”

Besides, KBM had been on Kligerman’s radar screen for some time. He qualified on the same row as Kyle Busch last season at Chicagoland, his final Nationwide start for Penske Racing (with which BKR is affiliated), and spent the pre-race ride around the track asking the Sprint Cup star about potential Truck Series openings on his team. When Kligerman was released from BKR, KBM general manager Rick Ren called to tell him there wasn’t a Truck seat available, but there might be something else open for 2013.

That something became the Nationwide car. Kligerman has limited experience in the series, with only 18 career starts, and a best finish of seventh in that same Chicagoland event where he bent the ear of his future boss. But as he looks back on his turbulent 2012 campaign, he figures if he can post strong results splitting the year among two teams, he might be capable of much more with one.

“I think last year turned a lot of people’s heads,” he said. “They say, ‘If he can do it with two teams, then what could he do in a stable situation?’ That helped, too. So it’s a good deal. I’m excited about it.”