Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Parker Kligerman’s Resilience Reaps Success

The biggest story out of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday (Sept. 9) was the little team of Big Machine Racing making the playoffs with full-time driver Parker Kligerman at the wheel.

A fan who might have started watching NASCAR just this season may have labeled Kligerman as simply an Xfinity regular having his best year in just his first with a small team. Said fan may have thought Kligerman just couldn’t get the job done with his previous teams.

That story would have some merit if you took out the several years of struggle, part-time driving or even Kligerman not having a ride leading up to 2023. But there’s so much more to the Kligerman story.

See also
Parker Kligerman Makes Playoffs After Riley Herbst Troubles

Kligerman started his career as a highly-touted prospect for Penske Racing (now Team Penske), competing in the early years of his career as a development driver for the team. After making some starts here and there for Penske’s Xfinity team in 2009 and 2010, along with a few starts with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Xfinity team to begin 2010, Kligerman and Penske realized that maybe starting in the Craftsman Truck Series would be a better fit.

In 2011, Kligerman joined Brad Keselowski Racing on a full-time basis, as BKR at the time served as the feeder team into the Penske pipeline (similar to what Kyle Busch Motorsports formerly did for Joe Gibbs Racing or Kevin Harvick Incorporated did for Richard Childress Racing). Despite going winless, Kligerman finished 11th in the 2011 standings. Concurrently, Kligerman made a start for Penske’s Xfinity team in 2011, finishing ninth in the fall race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

2012 was to be more of the same for Kligerman, and he managed seven top 10s in the first 11 races of the season in the Truck Series, including two top fives. He also had two top 10s in three Xfinity starts.

However, after the 11th race of the Truck Series season at Chicagoland Speedway, Kligerman was released from BKR. In essence, his time at Penske was over, save for practicing and qualifying Penske’s No. 22 Cup Series car at Michigan International Speedway for Sam Hornish Jr., who was competing in Xfinity at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve the same weekend.

Kligerman then joined Red Horse Racing for the back half of the 2012 Truck Series season, replacing John King, who was released after five races with the team despite his upset win in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Kligerman had a stellar second half of the season. In 11 races, he only finished outside the top 10 three times. He also won two poles and notched his first career win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Kligerman was actually a dark horse threat for the championship, but a crash at Phoenix Raceway ended any shot he had at the title. Despite his late success, Red Horse Racing did not retain him for the 2013 season. That’s when Kyle Busch stepped in and signed Kligerman to run the full 2013 with Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was Kligerman’s first attempt at a full-time Xfinity schedule and just the team’s second, running all of 2012 with Kyle and Kurt Busch splitting time in the No. 54.

Kligerman actually had a solid season in 2013. He didn’t win a race but was able to finish ninth in the final point standings with three top fives and 13 top 10s. But again, he was out of a ride as KBM folded its Xfinity program and chose not to bring Kligerman into the Truck Series.

Kligerman jumped up to the Cup Series in 2014, driving the No. 30 for Swan Racing. Things did not get off to a great start, as Kligerman was involved in a practice crash during Speedweeks at Daytona that ended with him on his roof.

Unfortunately, Kligerman again went job hunting, this time midway through the season. Swan Racing’s expansion to two full-time cars caused funding to dry up. With no sponsorship coming in, the team folded, leaving Kligerman and teammate Cole Whitt scrambling for rides.

Whitt and the assets of his No. 26 team were picked up by BK Racing, and he was able to finish the 2014 season. But Kligerman was unable to find another ride until the fall of 2015, when he made a one-off Xfinity start at Darlington Raceway.

At this point, anyone who had followed Kligerman’s career could probably have written Kligerman off as a NASCAR driver. His opportunities to find rides had seemingly dried up, making just one start in an 18-month timespan. He also joined NASCAR on NBC as an analyst and pit reporter, a job he still holds today.

But the Truck Series came calling, and Kligerman answered it as best he could. He started out 2016 driving full time for Ricky Benton Racing but was demoted to part time after eight races. He made two more starts with the team, along with a start for Athenian Motorsports in replacement of an injured John Wes Townley.

See also
Harrison Burton Learning the Little Things in Growth as a Cup Driver

That led Henderson Motorsports to offer Kligerman a ride with the team that he also has kept to this day — a part-time ride with the Abingdon, Va.-based team for as many as 12 races in a given season. This would allow Kligerman to continue working for NBC while staying behind the wheel.

In his first season with the team in 2017, Kligerman and Henderson upset the field at Talladega, earning Kligerman’s second career win five years after he got his first at the same track. For Henderson, it was the first Truck win for the very small team who spent years in the Truck Series with Caleb Holman with very little success. And it was the team’s first NASCAR national touring series win since Rick Wilson won at Dover Motor Speedway in Xfinity in 1989.

Kligerman continued to make the best of his scenario and has earned a multitude of top-five and top-10 finishes with Henderson, including his third (and team’s second) career victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2022. For the first time in his career, Kligerman dominated a race. He won stage one and led 56 of the race’s 67 laps en route to victory.

Between his 2017 and 2022 Truck wins, Kligerman made a handful of Cup Series starts with Gaunt Brothers Racing and just three Xfinity Series starts. However, Big Machine Racing team owner Scott Borchetta saw something in Kligerman and offered him a ride in the fall Xfinity race at Talladega last year.

Big Machine Racing, founded in 2021, enlisted Jade Buford to drive its No. 48 for 2021 and was supposed to do the same in 2022 before Borchetta effectively benched him to see what other drivers could do behind the wheel of the car. The move worked, as the No. 48 earned the team’s first (and to date only) career win at Texas Motor Speedway with Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick, and its performance has greatly improved since benching Buford.

Buford remains with the team — he made one more start with the team after his benching in 2022 and drove a second entry for the team at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega this season. But Kligerman’s sixth-place finish in BMR’s car at Talladega earned him the ride full time entering 2023.

People largely expected Kligerman to be a mid-pack driver given BMR’s equipment, but the success the team found in 2022 after Buford’s benching gave the team momentum in 2023. The technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing doesn’t hurt either — the team operates on the RCR campus. Kligerman has come close to winning on several occasions and still could very well get the job done before 2023 is over.

But his performance was so much better than what anyone expected that he managed to fight his way into the Xfinity playoffs for the first time in his and the team’s career. He enters the playoffs last in points of the 12 drivers. But with nine top-10s in the last 11 races — including four top fives — Kligerman is very much a dark horse capable of making a deep playoff run.

Kligerman is already confirmed to return to BMR full time in 2024. Him having the same full-time ride back-to-back years would have been unthinkable if I told you that in, say, 2015. Several times, Kligerman’s career should have been over. He was unable to hold down a ride, and as he began running for lower-tier teams, he should have faded into the sunset as another footnote in NASCAR.

But now, in the unlikeliest of turnarounds, he’s racing for the 2023 Xfinity Series championship.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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For me, Parkers season has been one of the feel-good stories of the season.

It will remain so regardless of how the playoffs play out. Two thumbs up for the entire team.

Kevin in SoCal

Go Parker!!

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