Kligerman ready for 600, just in case
May 19, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
"Yeah, physically and mentally," said the standby driver for Kurt Busch. "… I know he's a little slimmer than me, and I have a little broader shoulders. So I stopped weight training and lifting, and started running and cardio -- heat training and that sort of thing. I don’t know if it made a difference and I didn’t keep track. I don't know if I am slimmer. I feel slimmer. But in the event that something were to happen … making sure that we can be as aligned as possible in this seat is what matters most. In the event that did happen and I need to do 600 miles, yes, I'm ready to do 600 miles."
The odds of Kligerman having to make even one mile in NASCAR's longest event would seem slim indeed -- unless something in the Indianapolis 500 prevents Busch from making it to Charlotte Motor Speedway in time for the start of Sunday's event. The 2004 champion of NASCAR's premier series is the first driver in 10 years (and just fourth overall) to attempt all 1,100 miles of the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, and he's enlisted Kligerman as a standby in the case of an unforeseen conflict.
Kligerman was in the seat of Busch's Stewart-Haas Racing entry for Sprint All-Star Race practice this past Friday, while the vehicle's regular driver was putting his open-wheel car through paces in Indianapolis. Kligerman was also on call for All-Star qualifying this past Saturday evening, although Busch made it to Charlotte from Indy 500 qualifying in plenty of time to wheel his Haas Automation machine in both the qualifying session and the All-Star exhibition itself.
If all goes according to plan, the only times Kligerman will be in the No. 41 car this week are for a few laps of practice Thursday or Saturday, just to maintain his eligibility to start the race. Since the final days of practice at Indianapolis do not conflict with on-track activity at Charlotte, it all comes down to race day -- where Busch expects to complete the Indy 500, fly to Charlotte by jet, and then get dropped off in the infield by helicopter shortly before the start of the 600, which is slated to go green at 6 p.m. ET.
Before the All-Star Race, Busch made that same commute in an hour and 31 minutes. Kligerman will be on call in the event of a hang-up -- like a surprise victory at the Brickyard. No driver has ever won either half of the double, with Tony Stewart coming closest in 2001 when he placed sixth and third, respectively, in the two events. That effort also remains the only time a driver has completed all 1,100 miles in the quest. Sunday, Busch secured the 12th starting spot for the Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average speed of 230.782 mph.
"I absolutely hope Kurt is able to do all 1,100 miles," Kligerman said. "Obviously, if something were to happen, I'd be prepared to go out there and do the 600 miles and have the chance to run this Haas Automation Chevy SS. But that’s not my mindset. My mindset is to help this team be at the level they are used to being at, which is up front and being prepared to go out there and win races so that when Kurt shows up, he's ready to go out there and have the best and easiest transition between an IndyCar and stock car, which is tough in itself."
Kligerman said Busch first reached out to him by text two weeks before the All-Star Race. "I was like, 'Why is Kurt texting me?’ Occasionally I’ve gone to him for some advice here and there, but this was out of the blue," Kligerman said. Busch called to explain the situation, and the Monday of All-Star week Kligerman was at the SHR shop for a seat fitting. Since Busch has longer legs, the pedals would have to be adjusted should Kligerman be called into duty. The broad-shouldered Kligerman is also a tight fit in Busch's seat, but he could make do in a pinch.
"I'm a little cramped in there," he said. "If I do have to drive the car for some extended hours, I will be a little beat up. But that's all in helping Kurt do this."
Kligerman was a developmental driver for Team Penske when Busch drove Sprint Cup Series entries for the organization, and during test sessions Busch developed an appreciation for Kligerman's feedback about the car. "I was not surprised to get the call as much as being grateful and honored," Kligerman said. The backup role also marks Kligerman's first time behind the wheel since the breakup of his former Swan Racing team, which left the 23-year-old without a regular ride.
"It's been kind of refreshing, to be honest," said Kligerman, whose top finish at NASCAR's highest level was 18th at Texas late last year. "When you're at the back end of the Cup Series and fighting, and in those teams that are struggling a little bit, it can wear on you. I've been at this NASCAR deal for five years. I'm still young, but I don't look back. It's one of those things that can wear on you and wear on you.
"It's a little refreshing to step back, take account of where you're at, and look at the opportunities out there and say, 'You know what -- I'm not going to do opportunities like that any more.' I'm going to look at opportunities that can forward my career and put me in better positions to win races no matter where it's at, and make sure I'm staying at the forefront of the series instead of trying to do the thing of building a team up -- which, as I think you saw, just doesn't really work."