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September 13, 2023

As Xfinity Playoffs begin, Parker Kligerman reflective on growth opportunity

A calm early Tuesday morning acted as Parker Kligerman’s moment of solace for the week, the opportunity helping the 33-year-old take in a hot coffee and park bench for a quick breather. But the brief moment of relaxation also opened the door to reflect — on the double-duty responsibility of driving full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and broadcasting for NBC Sports. And, perhaps most of all, reflect on clinching a coveted NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs berth for the first time in his career.

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For Kligerman, the clinching ceremony came close to three days earlier, when a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway for the No. 48 Chevrolet helped him seize the 12th and final playoff berth via points, also marking Big Machine Racing’s first postseason appearance in its three years of existence.

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“It’s definitely been a moment of reflection for sure, and I’m not the best at doing that,” Kligerman said during Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day on Tuesday. “I’m not the best at sort of staying in the moment or taking a breath in the moment and sort of being like, wow, this is really cool, but I tried this morning. …

“I will try and find those moments to sort of reflect on this, but at the same time, I am a competitor, I am a race car driver, I want to go win, I want to go compete at a high level here, I want to get us to do something amazing and be in position to go be a part of that Championship 4 because that would be a really, really cool accomplishment to make happen. No matter what happens, we’ve accomplished something big, but I really think we can do it.”

Kligerman’s 2023 Xfinity campaign — his first as a full-time driver since 2013 — could be seen through the lens of two halves of the regular season. Through the first 12 races of the season, Kligerman amassed only four top-10 finishes and two top-five finishes. A 14th-place finish in June at Portland International Raceway, however, flipped a switch, and in 13 ensuing races, Kligerman finished outside the top 10 only three times. Kligerman additionally finished inside the top five five times during that stretch, including a runner-up result in July at Road America.

Parker Kligerman prepares to enter his No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Such a momentum swing — including the fourth-place finish at Kansas — didn’t solely put the No. 48 Chevrolet in prime position to clinch its first playoff berth. It also provided Kligerman the opportunity to gain more perspective when it comes to broadcasting.

So much perspective came from the playoff-hunting experience that, the morning following Kansas, Kligerman mentioned to NBC commentator Rick Allen his newfound appreciation for drivers who have gone through the tense grind of the postseason hunt.

This appreciation started during his own experience on Aug. 25 at Daytona International Speedway, when he realized he would not get help from other playoff-hopeful drivers as they looked to secure the same playoff berth. Fast forward to the Kansas race, and the appreciation only grew.

“It was an odd race because I have a newfound respect for the drivers that have gone through this because you race with the intention of, I gotta finish the best I can,” Kligerman said. “You have to focus on your race, the best ability you possibly can for your race team and you, but at the same time, no matter what you do, there’s this little thing in the back of your head being like, “OK, where’s the 98? OK, now the 9 is in second. All right, now I gotta go, right, and you also have to drive every lap at 99.9% because you can’t make mistakes.

“So like, this past weekend, I knew if I wanted to be more aggressive in the wall, we could’ve went up there and probably ran second. We had some speed in the bag, but I had to run the 99.9% ability of using the wall because if I hit the wall and cut a tire down, then that’s the stupidest thing I could do. At the same time, I was watching the 9 get away from me, and I’m thinking, what’s the choice here.”

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As the Xfinity Series Playoffs Round of 12 gets underway Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), Kligerman will look to continue a second-half stretch that helped vault the No. 48 team into the playoffs. And while Kligerman appreciates having a chance at competing for the Championship 4, he has not failed to realize how he has grown not only as a full-time driver but also as a broadcaster and individual.

“It’s been an amazing gift in my life to have this opportunity to be pushed to perform at such a high level in such a competitive endeavor at 32, 33 years old, and no matter what happens in my life, I’m going to be very grateful for this because I think it’s made me a better person,” Kligerman said. “I’m (not) going to say it’s made me smarter because I probably hit my limit there, but I think it’s definitely made me someone who’s a lot more understanding of the world, and I feel better prepared to be in pressure-packed, high-pressure situations no matter what that is in the future.”