Race Weekend Central

Making Sense of Kligerman / Brad Keselowski Racing Breakup

Do you follow Parker Kligerman on Twitter? Well, if you’re one of over 15,000 that can say yes to that question, it’s a possibility you saw a cryptic post-Pocono tweet from the former ARCA standout.

“Great Recovery by whole Of BKR. I’ve enjoyed the last year and a half,” he tweeted Saturday. “Things you’ll see soon, r 4 the better 4 everyone! #excited4future”

Two days later, Kligerman was no longer the driver of the No. 29 Dodge RAM for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series. The change comes as Kligerman sits sixth in championship points through 11 races, with two top 5s and seven top-10 finishes. His lone finish below 11th? A 19th at Kentucky.

Parker Kligerman is the latest in a string of Truck Series drivers to find himself in the unemployment line mid-season.

So, what gives?

It’s tough to say for sure right now, but the general vibe one gets from the announcement is that both sides–Kligerman and team officials, which surely includes Brad Keselowski–were unhappy with what had transpired in the year-and-a-half that the 22-year-old (his birthday is today, Aug. 8) had driven for the team full-time in the series. All told, including one race in 2010, that’s six top 5s and 16 top 10s in 37 races.

Those aren’t exactly poor results. Sure, Kligerman wasn’t setting the world on fire with results, but let’s face it — in the Truck Series, drivers rarely are these days. That’s not a comment on lack of talent; rather, it’s the opposite. There’s a lot of teams and drivers out there each week that have shots at victory.

Perhaps that’s the key word here: victory. Something Parker Kligerman hasn’t tasted since he entered NASCAR in 2009. The same, of course, can’t be said for his ARCA stats, which includes nine wins over 23 races, but that’s three years ago now. And as we’ve seen with classic cases such as Ryan Hemphill, dominating ARCA doesn’t necessarily mean much for you on the next level of racing.

What were the expectations for Kligerman when he entered into truck racing full-time? Was he expected to win often and contend for the championship, or was he merely supposed to develop a bit before moving up in NASCAR’s ranks? I don’t think it’s a stretch that, while the young driver wasn’t expected to win all the time, most probably anticipated a victory by now.

But I’m not sure a win could be expected from Kligerman for one chief reason: the team itself. Oftentimes we’re quick to blame performance woes on a driver, but think about this: since the 2008 season when the team debuted, no drivers (five total) have won a race in the No. 29. That tally includes owner Brad Keselowski, who has so far raced 10 times for his own team. Of course, Brad hasn’t been dreadful in the truck–three top 5s in four races in 2012–but wouldn’t you have expected a guy who seems to take pride in beating up on a lower series like the Nationwide Series (and succeeds much of the time) to have a victory by now?

I get that luck certainly plays into things, just as it can play into all forms of racing. And Keselowski’s overall results in the series are fairly unimpressive, though much of it was spent with underfunded teams. But if the owner, who has won a championship in a higher series and has grabbed numerous wins, can’t even win in the truck, might that say something about the equipment Kligerman was dealing with?

Perhaps money was an issue. Kligerman was sponsored mainly by Penske Truck Rental in 2011 (which causes question of how much of that was funding and how much was the fact that Penske supports the team and driver) and has bounced around with sponsorship in 2012. It’s possible that in order to run better, the team needed more funding. Perhaps Kligerman wasn’t bringing in enough as it was.

Regardless, the move is a bit shocking considering, again, that Kligerman is fairly respectable in points. Then again, Mike Bliss was fired from Phoenix Racing’s Nationwide team in 2009 despite being even higher in points than Kligerman and with a win in a Cup-dominated season. He then came back a few weeks later to drive Phoenix’s Cup effort.

The point is, sometimes these moves make little sense to many of us on the surface. There could be other issues internally that have yet to come to light, or perhaps it was a true amicable split.

So, let’s set that speculation aside and replace it with … more speculation! Where might Parker Kligerman be going from here?

The driver claims he already has some stuff in the works for the next race at Michigan. It’s tough to envision what that might be, but if the split between he and BKR was mutual, then you have to think he’ll be going somewhere with equipment that’s just as good, if not better than that which he left behind.

What does that leave? Joe Dennette’s team recently dropped its No. 24, but the primary No. 9 ride has actually performed slightly worse than Kligerman has this year. Red Horse Racing did the same thing five races into the season… could we see a return of John King’s old ride, but with a new driver?

I think the biggest likelihood comes down to two teams: Turner Motorsports or Eddie Sharp Racing. Both have openings, and both have been running a bit better than Kligerman’s former organization in 2012. Whether it’s a full-time thing or just a few races here and there, I think we’ll see Kligerman end up at one of these teams.

And what about Brad Keselowski Racing? Well, the boss man himself will be running Michigan, and the team seems committed to going for the owners points championship, which would of course necessitate running all events.

Usually when Keselowski wants to race, he’ll bring out the No. 19 truck for himself. For four races later this year, David Mayhew will also occupy that seat, returning to the series where he made waves for Kevin Harvick’s team in 2011. Depending on funding, it may not be a stretch to see Mayhew run some in the organization’s flagship truck now. It’s also, for better or for worse, tangible that the team’s owner may step in for the brunt of the races — which would be unfortunate in my eyes, given that the series finally seems to be establishing its own identity with the lack of Cup ringers.

Or what about Ryan Blaney?

Here’s a thought: Roger Penske, unhappy with Kligerman’s progress and already taking away Nationwide races from the young driver, gets in Keselowski’s ear and thinks it best for the team and Kligerman to part ways. He’s just signed Blaney to a few races in Nationwide, but the kid could use some more seasoning — why not run him in the No. 29 in Trucks for to see what he can do?

If you’re even a casual follower of NASCAR’s lower series, you’ll want to follow these stories as they develop over the next few weeks. Kligerman’s certainly a talent, but if he loses favor with Penske, could we see him parking Nationwide cars a la Matt DiBenedetto soon if he doesn’t catch on with a good team? And what will happen with his old team, which still plans to go for the owners championship?

Silly season’s started a little early for Kligerman, BKR and other involved parties. And who knows — their moves may be only the beginning.

*Connect with Kevin!*

“Contact Kevin Rutherford”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

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