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Parker Kligerman Thriving Under Playoff Pressure; Hopeful to Contend For Win at Indianapolis

Parker Kligerman Pennzoil 150 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course Big Machine Racing interview playoffs
Parker Kligerman Pennzoil 150 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course Big Machine Racing interview playoffs
Parker Kligerman is confident that he can contend for a win in the Pennzoil 150 at Indianapolis, and for good reason. He and his team have been firing on all cylinders lately. Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy, TobyChristie.com

Parker Kligerman enters a date with destiny on Saturday. The driver of the No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet Camaro rolls into the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway having recorded five top-10 finishes over his last six starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. And the hot streak couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

Kligerman, 33, makes no bones about it. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the host site to Saturday’s Pennzoil 150 at The Brickyard, is unquestionably the greatest race track in the world to him. Not Daytona International Speedway. Not Le Mans. Not any other iconic track that you can think of.

Yes, those incredible speedways are all great and special in their own right. But for Kligerman, there’s only one Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“This is the one race, if you could only give me one race all year to win, it would be this one,” Kligerman stated in an exclusive interview. “Maybe, I honestly think any race — any race. Indianapolis, to me, is the most important race track in the world.”

Kligerman spent his boyhood years trying to forge a career in the open-wheel ranks. At the age of 16, Kligerman’s family uprooted their lives in Connecticut and moved two blocks from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He would go on to spend a two-year stint racing USAC midgets in Indianapolis in hopes of someday getting a chance to race at the hallowed ground in Speedway, Indiana.

Obviously, the open-wheel career path didn’t ultimately pan out for Kligerman, and he thinks it was ultimately for the best as he didn’t want to put his mother through the stress of watching him pilot an IndyCar at 200-plus miles per hour around oval tracks. But Kligerman did get a chance to run an Indy Lights (now Indy NXT) car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a test session, as he pondered a swap back to open-wheel from stock cars back in the fall of 2014.

Kligerman also admits that at the time he toyed with the notion of running both concurrently, but the racing world just wasn’t geared toward embracing a driver running both disciplines at that time.

“When I think back I should have done both,” Kligerman said. “I should have done that and trucks, it would have been a really cool thing. But it was an odd thing at that time. Now, it would be accepted.”

Ultimately, Kligerman chose to stick to the hard tops, and over the years, he has had the honor of contesting three NASCAR National Series events combined between the 2.5-mile oval, and the 2.439-mile road course layout. However, never has Kligerman come into a race at Indianapolis with a car truly capable of winning. That changes this weekend, and with how he and his No. 48 team are rolling, the driver is truly looking forward to just having a chance to pull off the unthinkable — being a race winner at the yard of bricks.

“Anytime I’ve gotten to [race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway], I definitely don’t take it for granted, and to think I have a chance to go win a race here tomorrow, it gives me goosebumps,” Kligerman explained with a hopeful tone. “I want to be in contention. I told my team, all I want with five to go is to have a shot at it. And if I could have that, then hopefully I could muster everything up to go out there and take that.”

Kligerman excels at road course racing, as evidenced by his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last season driving for the part-time Henderson Racing team, and by his runner-up finish at Road America just a couple of races ago.

But the question is: Will Kligerman find himself in the late stages of the race with a true chance at victory? We’ll find out on Saturday because there are too many intangibles that can take a driver and team out of the running for a race win. In modern-day NASCAR, you have to be absolutely perfect to pull off a win. But circumstances aside, Kligerman truly believes he can win, and believing is 90% of the battle.

The confidence that Kligerman has in his Big Machine Racing cars right now is beaming.

“There are multiple places we can win, including [the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course],” Kligerman emphasized.

He’s primed. He’s pumped. He’s locked in. The driver even spent an extended period of time on pit road on Friday afternoon just basking in what he called his favorite stretch of pavement in the world.

Speaking of being locked in, if Kligerman were to taste the spoils of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory lane on Saturday, he would also find himself locked into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.

Heading into Saturday’s race, Kligerman finds himself 13th in the championship standings, one position and a total of 18 points below the cutline. It’s caused people to ask Kligerman whether he’s felt the pressure of the Playoffs creep into his head yet.

For a battle-tested veteran like Kligerman, he is fully at peace and is not feeling any stress with five races remaining in the regular season.

“People are like, ‘Oh man, the pressure, the Playoffs, all this stuff,’ And I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop. You mean how awesome it is to have that issue and those problems?’ It’s a good problem to have,” Kligerman said. “Obviously, we’d like to have a win and just be locked in. But if you’re going to be in a full season, you at least want to obviously be in contention for the Playoffs, and I think we’re there.”

Kligerman feels his No. 48 team is trending in the correct direction to point their way into the championship battle regardless if they have a win or not.

“Honestly, if we just finish top-10 in every Stage from here on out — that’s Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, ultimate finish — if we just did that, I all but guarantee you’d get in the Playoffs,” Kligerman stated. “That’s basically [what we’ve been doing]. Since Sonoma, we finished fifth there, and in Portland, we finished 12th or whatever. Obviously, we were in the top three on the last restart and went for it. Then Nashville, we finished 11th spinning across the line, and then New Hampshire we got wrecked.

“But otherwise, and there’s like 10-12 races, we’ve basically been top-10 or top-five and had top-five speed in more than half of them, or half. If we just did that over the next five races, we’ll be fine. Patrick Donahue and our whole Big Machine Racing team have done a great job in just working on the small things. Tiny little things.”

While Donahue and the mechanical side of the team have been fine-tuning those little details, Kligerman has begun to own where he has been falling short this season.

Kligerman says he knows he has not been getting the job done in qualifying for his team, which has led to him putting in extra effort to study and build notes on how to maximize his performance in that area. Kligerman feels that simply starting near the front will help his team accumulate more Stage Points, which he’s not wrong when it comes to Stage 1.

The team has also made changes to another area that they’ve felt has been a chink in the armor for them all season long — their pit crew.

“Pit road has been a bit of a struggle for us for about the last 20 races. Our best races have been the standalones,” Kligerman laughed. “They’re good guys, I don’t want to be down or anything, but there’s a really tough gap right now between great Cup pit crews, which are single lug, and five lug nut.”

To bridge the gap, Big Machine Racing has flexed some of the NASCAR Cup Series single lug nut pit crew members on the team to a crew that specializes more in the five lug nut style pit stops that occur in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

“It’s just the new era that we’re living through, it’s the second year of this. They’re winning races on the Cup side, and over here, it’s a totally different pit stop,” Kligerman explained. “And so, it’s a really hard thing for these Xfinity teams to find the right mesh of people, who are not just able to do both, but can kind of compartmentalize that change. That is something we’ve had to work through.”

Add it all together, and you have a driver, crew chief, and pit crew — a total team — on the rise. That is what has put them in a position to capitalize on their newfound momentum. They could be winners soon, and if it happens this week, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway digital scoring pylon flashes, “Winner: Parker Kligerman,” at the end of the Pennzoil 150, who knows what could happen.

“That would be — well, I might die on that. I might collapse,” Kligerman quipped.

The Pennzoil 150 at The Brickyard is set for Saturday, August 12th. CNBC will provide the television broadcast, which will kick off at 5:00 PM ET. IMS Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the radio broadcast for the event.

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