Parker Kligerman makes Daytona 500 with timely help from Kyle Busch

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Parker Kligerman was out of the Daytona 500 … until Kyle Busch was out of the draft.

It was a fortuitous turn of events for the driver turned TV analyst who “literally thought I’d never drive a Cup car again” but now will drive in the biggest race of his life.

With critical help from Busch, who had fallen a lap down and deep in the pack because of a midrace spin, Kligerman finished 12th in Thursday’s first qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway and made The Great American Race for the second time in his NASCAR career. He will start 25th alongside Kyle Larson.

“It kind of feels like it’s finally all starting to work,” said Kligerman, who took a four-year break from the Cup Series from 2014-18 while working for NBC Sports Group as an analyst and pit reporter while continuing to race part-time in the Truck Series. “Like after many years of doing this, people are starting to take notice.  I’m getting the opportunities.

“When I won the Talladega truck race two years ago, I had like 550, 560 texts.  I have 530 texts right now just from making the 500.  It is a big race, apparently. Biggest race in the world.”

Kligerman, 27, finished just ahead of Tyler Reddick and Ryan Truex, the two drivers he needed to beat to put Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota in the field for Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500.

Parker Kligerman speaks Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kligerman’s hopes seemed dashed when Reddick moved ahead of him with 14 laps to go, but his seemingly futile pursuit suddenly took flight when Busch’s No. 18 Toyota plummeted into range with four laps remaining. After their spotters began communicating, Kligerman and Busch hooked up and rocketed past Reddick.

“From there, it was a blockfest,” Kligerman said of holding off Reddick and Truex. ”I never blocked so hard in my entire life. Swerving down the backstretch just to hold them off. And we’re in the Daytona 500.”

He can thank Busch, whose NASCAR team fielded Kligerman full time in the Xfinity Series for the 2013 season – helping propel Kligerman into Cup for a short-lived ride in ’14. Busch and Kligerman have remained on good terms since then, and though sharing a manufacturer helped (“We don’t have a lot of cars in this race, so the more Toyotas, the better.”), so did their friendship.

“I’ve had a great relationship with him for a long time, since I drove for him,” Kligerman said. “He’s always been someone that I needed some advice or just wanted to reach out for a question, I could reach out to him. He’s done the same with me a lot of times about the truck series.

“It’s a mutual respect. I’m very glad I’ve made that relationship for this exact reason right here. Because he’s the reason we got in the Daytona 500.”

The Westport, Connecticut, native can take some credit. He returned to Cup last year with four starts for Gaunt Brothers  (starting at the Coca-Cola 600) and posted two top 25s for the fledgling team, which earned him another shot for Speedweeks 2019 and starts the next two weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Owner Marty Gaunt is hoping to run a dozen races this season, and Kligerman hopes to figure into more.

“I know he has grand ambitions for the future for this race team,” he said. “I hope to be in those discussions.  Right now, we’re taking it step by step, being methodical about it, being smart.  He wants to be here for a long time. I really, really hope this all works out because he’s a good guy and good owner to have in this sport and we need more like him.”

For now, though, Kligerman is happy to focus on the short-term satisfaction of being a Daytona 500 driver again.

“A year ago I watched (the Daytona 500),” he said. “I felt like I’d probably never get a chance to be in this race again. Fast forward a couple weeks ago, I’m doing pit reporting, doing the (Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona).  Now I’m sitting up here now talking to you guys as a guy that just made the Daytona 500.  It means the world to me.”

He had been disguising that since posting the 36th-fastest speed in qualifying, “putting on a cool face like I’m not worried at all.

“This is the most anxiety I’ve ever had in my entire life. The days leading up to this are literally some of the worst days of your life.  Then all of a sudden in the span of a split second when you cross that finish line, you’re in, the whole world becomes brighter and clearer, everything is better.”

It did come with one downer note: Truex, Kligerman’s good friend and social media foil, missed making his first Daytona 500 start.

“It is a little bittersweet knowing,” Kligerman said. “He’s a good friend of mine. He’s one of the most underrated drivers in the sport. I told him before the race I never wanted to be in this position, but here we are.

“We’re in the Daytona 500.”

NASCAR Open starting lineup at Bristol

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Michael McDowell will start on the pole for the NASCAR Open at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw. Aric Almirola joins him on the front row.

Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

The winners of each segment advance to the All-Star Race, along with the fan vote winner. Last year, Kyle Larson won a segment in the Open to advance to the All-Star Race and then won that event. Other segment winners last year were William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Alex Bowman advanced through the fan vote a year ago. Bowman has already qualified for this year’s All-Star Race.

 

NASCAR Open at Bristol 

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 85 laps over three segments, 45.3 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 35 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 15 laps.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Martin Truex Jr. to start on pole for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Martin Truex Jr., who is seeking his first All-Star Race win, will start on the pole for Wednesday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Truex will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman.

Rookie Cole Custer, who earned a spot in the All-Star Race with his win Sunday at Kentucky, will start eighth.

Click here for All-Star Lineup

  • Positions 17-19 will go to segment winners from the NASCAR Open. The 20th starting spot goes to the fan vote winner, which will be announced after the NASCAR Open

Among the special rules for the race:

# The Chose Rule will be used. As drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they must commit to the inside or outside lane for the restart.

# The car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give sponsors more exposure.

# Cars that have automatically qualified for the All-Star Race will have underglow lights on their cars.

 

NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol 

Race Time: 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 140 laps over four segments, 74.6 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 55 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 35 laps. Segment 4 is 15 laps (only green flag laps count in this segment).

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Xfinity playoff grid after Kentucky doubleheader

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The Xfinity Series went to Kentucky Speedway for a doubleheader and Austin Cindric left the track with two wins and a spot in the playoffs.

Cindric, who claimed the first oval track NASCAR wins of his career, is now third on the playoff grid among the six drivers locked into the postseason. He has 15 playoff points.

Noah Gragson, who is second on the grid, won three of four stages in Kentucky and has 18 playoff points.

Six spots remain to be filled on the playoff grid. The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Ryan Sieg (+57 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+14).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-14 points from cutline), Jeremy Clements (-30), Alex Labbe (-42) and Jesse Little (-47).

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

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Cole Custer delivered the first curveball to the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff chase Sunday when he won at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer entered the race 25th in the points, nine spots back from the cutoff line for 16-driver field.

Now, Custer is one of nine drivers locked into the playoffs, meaning the cutoff for the postseason is 15th in points.

Among those currently in the playoff grid who are not locked in, the last two are William Byron (+30 points) and Jimmie Johnson (+24).

The first four drivers sitting outside a playoff spot are Austin Dillon (-24 points from cutoff), Tyler Reddick (-41), Erik Jones (-42) and Bubba Wallace (-84).