NASCAR

NSCS: Parker Kligerman Prepares for Rookie of the Year Candidacy; Will Run NCWTS Part-Time

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Via ParkerKligerman.com

 

By Joseph Wolkin-NASCAR Columnist and Editor (@JosephNASCAR)

December 19, 2013

WHITESTONE, N.Y.– Parker Kligerman is making the move up to the Sprint Cup Series for the 2014 season. After running full NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons in 2011 and 2012 plus a full NASCAR Nationwide Series slate in 2013, Kligerman is finally making the jump to NASCAR’s top tier division.

Swan Racing announced that they had hired Kligerman as their full-time driver shortly after the NASCAR season had concluded. He will be in one of two cars for the organization as he attempts to show he can help bring the team to a top-20 contender in 2014.

Over time, Kligerman has proven to be one of the most consistent drivers on the NASCAR circuit. He started out his career while contending for an ARCA Series championship against the eventual champion, Justin Lofton, who also moved up to the NASCAR ranks. Evidently, Kligerman was signed onto a development deal with Penske Racing. Unfortunately, that did not pan out to what he expected even though he was able to gain some valuable experience.

Kligerman has since driven for only Toyota teams in NASCAR competition, developing an important relationship with the manufacturer that has dominated the Camping World Truck Series field for nearly a decade.

Now, Kligerman, 22, is making the jump from a Kyle Busch Motorsports team that did not have full sponsorship in 2013, but was still able to finish ninth in points, two points shy of Rookie of the Year winner, Kyle Larson. He’ll be driving for Swan Racing as a teammate to fellow Rookie of the Year competitor, Cole Whitt.

As Kligerman approaches his inaugural campaign in what he states as “the most competitive racing series in the world,” he understands that he has been given the challenge of taking a 33rd place race team, and making it competitive. Though it will be difficult, it is something that he understands quite well as he looks to grow into a contender for one of the most diversified rookie of the year classes which the sport has seen in recent years.

Besides making his marks in the Sprint Cup Series after an impressive debut at Texas in November, followed by a respectable run at Homestead to close out the year, Kligerman will be returning to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the majority of the year with a team that will be announced shortly. Though some may argue it may get in the way of Kligerman’s full-time focus, it will give him a chance to contend for wins while learning more about race tracks throughout the year.

In this interview with the Westport, C.T. native, Motor Racing Scene takes a look at how Kligerman will be approaching his rookie year, what made him make the decision to leave the Nationwide Series, his developing relationship with several key partners including Toyota, his expectations and more.

  • What impressed you about Swan Racing that made you decide that was where you wanted to race in 2014?

“I think one of the biggest things in making the decision to join Swan Racing was the owner, Brandon Davis, and his commitment to the sport, his love and passion for the sport. He was starting a new wave of young ownership coming into the sport. I think that is a very important thing for the longevity of our sport, and for a young driver to be associated with an owner coming into the sport at this stage, attempting to have a long career, that really excited me. Toyota was supporting Swan in a large manner and it continuing to by building with them. I felt like it was the place to be to help grow my career and get a job in the Sprint Cup Series.”

  • Why the decision to make move up to the Sprint Cup Series now instead of gaining another year of experience in the Nationwide Series?

“The problem with the Nationwide Series right now is it’s hard to get sponsorship. After my years in the Truck Series, plus the situation at Kyle Busch Motorsports, he ended up leaving with his Monster sponsorship for his Joe Gibbs Racing team. The problem is, if you do not have six or seven million dollars to go drive the No. 54 car or the No. 22 car or one of those top-three cars out there, you will not have a chance to win. That is the plain reality of the Nationwide Series. You will have a team occasionally win like a Kyle Busch Motorsports or a Turner-Scott Motorsports, but in all reality, if you want to compete for a championship, you need a six-seven million dollar budget. As a young kid, that’s really tough to find, or getting supported for, in a second tier series. At this point in my career, it made sense to make the move to the Sprint Cup Series after the success I had in my first two races with them. I’m looking forward to it. You are seeing a huge, young crop of drivers moving up to the Cup Series this year, and I’m just glad to be a part of that and take advantage of the opportunity.”

  • Evaluating your rookie season in the Nationwide Series, how do you believe you did considering the team did not have full sponsorship?

“I think we did alright. At the start of the year, we had a goal to be fifth in points. We knew that was a realistic goal for being a single-car Nationwide Series team. It was my first full season in the Nationwide Series, so we looked at fifth place in points as a really solid year and if we were in the position, we may or may not have a shot at the championship. We came up short on that. We actually went 22 races without ever even having a crash, which I was really proud of. The crashes and DNF’s that we had were not our fault. We got taken out at Bristol, Kentucky and a fire at Richmond. Overall, I feel like if you take those three races out, the only mechanical failure we had was at Las Vegas, we would have finished about fifth in points, maybe even fourth and I was really proud of that. I think that it was a successful season. There was more to get for sure, but what we had and what we achieved in being the highest single-car team, and nearly beating the No. 32 car in points, I was impressed and glad for the opportunity. I want to thank Kyle Busch and everyone at Toyota, it was definitely a huge stepping stone for me to get a Cup Series opportunity.”

 

  • What are your 2014 expectations?

“For Swan Racing, looking at where they finished in the points this year, they finished in 33rd.  For our team, we want to make the jump to 20th. That’s a huge jump. When you look at that, you see the established teams like Richard Petty Motorsports and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, maybe one of the MWR cars. We have to be Germain, the No. 47 (Allmendinger). There are really established race teams that we have to leap over in order to get to that point, but I feel like some of the things that we are doing during the off-season with Toyota support, we will be set up through the first six months of the season. We will all be there right away since this is racing, and we are only learning as fast as we can. If we can keep in contention with a top-25 team for the first half of the season, then get into the second half of the year, breaking into the top-20, there will be no reason why we can’t drop down and finish 20th in points. Rookies in the last 10 years, the Rookie of the Year winner has finished anywhere from 18th to 22nd in points, so we might have a shot at winning Rookie of the Year. It is a very ambitious jump. The gap from 15th-25th is insanely tight in the Sprint Cup Series, and I think it is definitely a lofty goal, but with the right resources behind us, we can go achieve it. I will be racing in the Truck Series as well. We have not announced it as of yet, but I will be doing the majority of the Truck Series races in a truck to be announced. I’m really looking forward to that with the one goal of winning races.

  • How do you make a 33rd place organization into the top-20 within a year such as you did at Texas?

“I think that it is a combination thing. We need to be consistent. That day at Texas, we were perfect for those 367 laps. We were absolutely perfect. There was not a person on the team that messed up on a pit stop. We made perfect calls on the race track, and everything was perfect that led us to finish 18th. Looking into 2014, we want our absolutely perfect day to be a top-10. If you can make your perfect day be a 10th place day in the Sprint Cup Series, you have made a large jump. I think for us, making our team consistent where our off days are 25th. Being in that top-20 to top-25 range will hopefully garner us to the position in points that we want. How do we get there in terms of equipment and resources? That is obviously on the financial side. Brandon Davis, our owner, has put up a larger financial commitment for this season. At the end of the day, this sport costs a lot of money and you need commercial partners who are going to be a huge part of making that jump. I feel like between those two things, we will definitely have some of the right things in place to make improvements. It’s a lot of “if’s,” but there is no reason why we can’t accomplish this.”

  • What was the most instrumental thing that led you to join Swan Racing beside Brandon Davis’ involvement?

“I think that them looking for young talent, trying to do it a different way was a key. At the end of the day, they were not looking for a guy at the end of his career and getting a sponsor with that big name. They actually want to grow their brand, the Swan Racing brand, and their identity in the natural way of going out there and performing. In doing so, they wanted to have a young kid within the organization, and potentially build a franchise around. It is almost more of a football (NFL) model in terms of getting a young Quarter Back out of college and building around him for a couple of years, hoping that he becomes the face of the franchise. That plan and outlook really excited me and made me feel that I can be an instrumental part of the team. Hopefully, my four years at Penske, watching them win a championship, I can bring a lot to the race team. This is a place that will allow me to do that and we can go out there and achieve our goals.”

  • After Kyle Busch Motorsports announced they were letting go of employees, how did you go about attempting to finalize your 2014 plans?

“We had already been working on things. I don’t want to say that I knew it was coming because I knew everyone was working really hard to continue making our team better. The biggest thing in that situation was, I was not worried about myself. I was worried about the employees at Kyle Busch Motorsports whose families depended on the success of that race team and the success of my Nationwide Series car plus ability of us to find commercial partners to support the Nationwide car. That was my main focus. For myself, I knew things would come together one way or another. I have been lucky enough to build great relationships with great sponsors such as Bandit Chippers and North American Power and a lot of other companies that you saw on our Nationwide Series car this year. I feel like I have really made some great relationships with them, so I felt like there was an avenue for me to find a ride. The Swan Racing thing came almost out of the blue. It’s something I am definitely grateful for. I was not something I was planning on, it was an opportunity that came and it has worked out so far. I think the biggest thing for Kyle Busch Motorsports is that they found a way to keep a lot of the employees and they are going to continue racing in the Truck Series next year. It’s a great thing for a lot of good people there.”

  • You had an impressive debut at Texas where you finished 18th, how did you handle that weekend in terms of attempting to show you are capable of running well at NASCAR’s top level?

“The way that I looked at it was you work your whole life, every rank from go-carts, to get to the top. When you get to the top, you hope that you have been practiced and rehearsed enough and now you’re ready to perform. I never slept better than the night before my Sprint Cup Series debut at Texas because it was almost like, I have worked my whole life and I knew it was right in front of me, and now it was time to go get it. When it is time to perform as an athlete, especially as a race car driver, that is the easiest time, it is the time before it that is hard. Then we had that great run at Texas, a banner day for a rookie in my first start, especially for Swan Racing. It felt like going into the Homestead race that we could build on that. Even though we probably were not an 18th place car, we really just put a perfect day together and went out to have a solid day with a 25th place finish. We were threatening the top-20 a couple of times, but we just lost some speed when it went to night time at the end of the race. It showed that Texas was not a fluke and weekends like that help build a lot of confidence in your race team.”

  • When I first interviewed you, you had just won the Talladega Truck Series race. A lot has happened since then. What has been the biggest event that has catapulted you to make the jump to the Cup Series?

“I think that it was my consistency this year. Although we were not winning races or setting the world on fire, we were really consistent in the Nationwide Series this year. I really feel like that consistency and that ability of helping improve the race team was a big part of getting a Sprint Cup Series opportunity.”

  • Who will be your crew chief be?

“I can’t tell you right this second. I can tell you that I know who it is, but I can’t tell you. You will have to wait until the team decides to make all of those announcements such as the car number and my crew chief plus Cole (Whitt’s) crew chief. We have everything set and in place, it’s all done and the people are already there, we just want to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves and we are able to announce it with every guy in it.”

  • Has there been any word on sponsorship besides Lean 1 and Swan Energy?

“There are a lot of things in works there. I would not say it is a big worry of mine for 2014. I believe that Brandon Davis has put up a large commitment to building this race team. I think that the commercial partners that we are talking to will be a key part to our success and will be announced real soon.”

  • How do you feel about working with fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, Cole Whitt?

“I think it’s an interesting dynamic. I don’t believe that it has been done before in the Sprint Cup Series, so it’s an experiment in of itself. Cole is a solid race car driver. He puts in the same amount of hard work as I do. He’s definitely a talented race car driver and he has a lot of speed. There are things that I can learn from him and there are things that I can teach him in order to work well together to improve the Swan Racing organization, and grow this team into what we both want it to be. I think it’s going to be a good year, knowing that I have a solid teammate to rely on for feedback.”

 

  • What advantages will the team have with two full-time cars instead of just one?

“One of the biggest things that we have now is we are the sole Triad Racing Technologies. We’ll have our own engine department. Having two sets of cars and two sets of data will help us improve those engines constantly. Also having the data as the team is growing with an engineering crew growing, wind tunnel information and all of those things that we, as a race team, can grow on. The performance of the team will only improve by having two cars. A big thing you see is teams rushing to have two cars, they end up treating one car like an ‘A’ car and one car like a ‘B’ car. We want to make sure that the cars are equal and we contend like we hope.”

  • Say you struggle for a part of the season, how do you show people you guys still have what it takes to run well?

“I think any rookie campaign will have some struggles. It’s a gruesome and long schedule. The Sprint Cup Series is no walk in the talk. It is the best 43 drivers and teams in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the most competitive racing series in the world is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, I don’t think anyone can argue that when looking at the lap times and stuff like that. There will be times that a rookie will struggle, but the ability to have a consistency and having the average finish you want for the entire season is the key. As long as we can always go out there, always improving and always looking forward, never taking a step back, we will show the people that we’re here to stay, we’re a force to be reckoned with and we’ll keep making that next step towards victory lane.”

  • Moving to your third Toyota team in as many years, how does this move help your personal alliance with the manufacturer?

“I really believe that most of this opportunity came about because of Toyota. Toyota has been one of my biggest supporters over the last few years. I cannot thank them enough. I feel like I am building more than just a commercial relationship with the Toyota family and Toyota brand. There is no manufacturer that I want to be aligned with more at this time in my Sprint Cup Series career. I’m so proud to be a part of Swan Racing and the Toyota family.”

  • What is your overall career goal? Do you plan on staying with Swan Racing for more than just the 2013 season after working with several one-year deals?

“I would say that the opportunity to stay at Swan Racing for multiple years is on the table. It is just a matter of working out the finer details and discussing things for both parties. My full intention is on 2014, making sure we grow this team and hopefully achieve our goal of finishing in the top-25 to top-20 in points.”

  • What is going to be the biggest difference in your life as you make the move to the Sprint Cup Series?

“The biggest difference will probably be the traveling amount with the larger schedule in the Sprint Cup Series. You are on the road a lot more. You are doing a lot more racing, a lot more commercial partners to entertain and your time is a lot more valuable. It is something you need to adjust to.”

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