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.”

Roger Penske was ready for his close-up in popular commercial

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MONTEREY, California – Roger Penske is the only team owner in auto racing history who has 18 “Baby Borg” Trophies in his possession for his team’s record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.

Perhaps his next trophy should be an Emmy.

Penske took part in a commercial along with 103rd Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and one of his NASCAR Cup drivers, Ryan Blaney. The commercial was shot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 7 while NASCAR was in town for the Brickyard 400.

The premise of the commercials is a takeoff on the 2006 comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” with Blaney playing the Ricky Bobby role and Pagenaud playing the Jean Girard role.

The commercial was shot by NBC to promote its coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and concludes with Penske stepping in between the two drivers, demanding them to, “Go out there and win races.”

Penske delivered the line perfectly and in just three takes.

“It took me about five minutes,” Penske told NBCSports.com. “They made it very easy for me. We let the guys do all of the hard work. It was fun for me to do. I saw it, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself.

“I’m ready for the next commercial.”

Penske’s ability to deliver his lines perfectly impressed NBC Sports Group President of Programing Jon Miller.

“I assume he’s got his SAG card,” Miller told NBCSports.com. “He has certainly been in front of the camera enough, and he’s quite an ambassador for the sport, so we were not at all surprised by that.”

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood was also highly impressed with Penske’s ability to turn into an actor in front of the camera.

“We were thrilled that he agreed to do it,” Flood told NBC Sports.com. “It’s one of those special things and the kind of guy he is to jump on board and make it even bigger because we had a ‘Plan B’ if Roger couldn’t do it, and when we got the confirmation, we knew we had something special that was going to happen.

“Roger Penske did the ad with two of his drivers that we shot at the Brickyard last week that got out there. A lot of fun, a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past. I think that’s part of us leaning in as NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing, as you know all too well.”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who will take a 41-point lead over Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix, also was complimentary of his team owner.

“Wow, I was impressed,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com. “First of all, how did they get him to do a cameo? That was cool. And he nailed it.

“The pressure on Simon and Blaney to nail it, after Roger does it in only three takes? Wow, the pressure was really on them to deliver their lines.”

Pagenaud thought Penske’s first take was the best.

“It didn’t take long for Roger to deliver his line, he was on top of it,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com. “NBCSN was very excited about the idea. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made sure we were able to get into Gasoline Alley early that day. It was the Saturday of the Brickyard 400 and it was early, but Roger was probably up since 2 a.m. I’m sure, so it wasn’t early for him.

“It was good, the script was fun and well done. I forced my French and Blaney being the perfect American NASCAR driver and Roger just being himself was just perfect. It shows personality between NASCAR and INDYCAR. NBC is doing such a great job showing both fans on both sides what is going in and it helps everybody get interested in both sports.”

Penske was asked if that is how he normally talks to his drivers in a prerace situation to fire them up.

“That’s not the normal, daily message, but that’s how it helped those two guys get going,” Penske said. “I think NBC has done a great job in all cases on IndyCar. The continuity of having the same partner has made a huge difference. The talent knows the drivers. They know the situation. Guys like Paul Tracy and the experience of Leigh Diffey and the whole group has done a great job.

“It’s about good racing. We have good teams. Lots of competition, new drivers and date equity. And it’s attracting young people.”

Penske believes the addition of NBC Sports to the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, including the season’s final race on the NBC, has been a big boost to the series.

“Any time you are on network is great,” Penske said. “It’s great for the sponsors, the notoriety for the team and the drivers is very important for all of us as we finish up the season. It’s going to be a great weekend, and I hope we can continue the movement we’ve had and the momentum we’ve had coming up to the last weekend.”

Richmond winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It was a 1-2-3-4 finish until Erik Jones’ car failed inspection. Still the team scored a 1-2-3 finish and claimed its fourth consecutive win on a short track with Martin Truex Jr.’s triumph. Don’t forget, the organization also won Friday’s Xfinity race with Christopher Bell.

Ryan Newman His fifth-place finish tied his best result of the year and was his third consecutive top-10 showing. He was encouraged by the team running toward the front and noted: “You take away those four Gibbs cars, we were racing for the win. I know it doesn’t work that way, but if they would have had one bad meeting (incident) we would’ve been in the hunt.” Still, Newman moved into a transfer spot heading into this coming weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Brad KeselowskiHe finished fourth and was the only driver outside of Joe Gibbs Racing to lead Saturday’s race.

Bubba Wallace His 12th-place finish was his third top-15 result in the last five races. He had one top-15 finish in the first 23 races of the season.

Front Row Motorsports — All three of its cars placed 21st or better, the first time the team has accomplished that feat this season. David Ragan was 19th, rookie Matt Tifft placed 20th and Michael McDowell was 21st.

LOSERS

Erik Jones He was feeling good about his fourth-place finish that put him within three points of the final transfer spot to the next round only to later find out that his car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. Now he’s 45 points out of the final transfer spot and is essentially in a must-win situation. He faces being eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for a second year in a row.

William Byron Got lapped in the final circuits before the end of each stage and also had a pit road speeding penalty. That led to a season-worst 25th-place finish. He holds the final transfer spot to the second round by two points on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman heading to the Roval.

Brad Keselowski bumped up to fourth, but JGR domination still ‘not good news’

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Brad Keselowski ended Saturday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway with what he thought was a fifth-place finish.

About an hour later though, Keselowski was moved up one position to fourth place after original fourth-place finisher Erik Jones was disqualified after his car failed post-race inspection.

Still, gaining one extra finishing position didn’t make the 2012 NASCAR Cup champion happy because of Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination in the second race of the playoffs – even with Jones’ DQ.

(How JGR finished is) definitely not good news,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got work to do. (JGR is) really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them.

We put down a great qualifying lap, got the first pit stall, had great pit stops and got to the lead, but just didn’t have the raw speed to keep it.”

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

MORE: Results, points after 2nd race of Cup playoffs at Richmond

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ car for failing inspection

Keselowski tweeted a few hours after the race that he didn’t “take no pleasure & seek no treasure from another man’s loss,” referring to Jones’ DQ.


Even so, Keselowski took some consolation from his overall performance.

We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win,” he said.

Keselowski mistakenly said in a post-race interview that he had joined Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in advancing to the Round of 12 two weeks from now due to his points in the standings.

Yeah, we’re locked into the next round,” Keselowski said. “That feels good. I’m proud of that effort.”

Actually, Keselowski left Richmond two points shy of being locked into the next playoff round. That will have to come next Sunday at Charlotte’s Roval.

There’s still work to do not only for Keselowski’s car, but also those of his teammates — Joey Logano finished 11th and Ryan Blaney 17th — to counter JGR’s domination.

But what exactly has to be done is a question mark, Keselowski said.

Honestly, I don’t know,” Keselowski said. “They’ve got all the secrets so we need to find some more secrets.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch sees progress in runner-up finish at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. — After his fiery comments last week led some to be critical of his attitude toward slower drivers, Kyle Busch was calmer after his runner-up performance to Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Busch led a race-high 202 of 400 laps but lost the lead to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate with 26 laps to go and had to settle for second place.

“We put up a valiant effort,” Busch said.

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Erik Jones’ fourth-place finishing car

While his winless drought starched to 14 races, Busch noted that the performance was a step forward for the No. 18 Toyota team.

“I know we’re capable of it, the team is capable of it,” said Busch, who clinched a spot in the second round with his 54-point night. “Just stupid things have been biting us this year and we put it all together tonight. I didn’t speed on pit road, pit crew did a good job, our car was fast and we made the most of our effort.”

Whether it was Busch hitting the wall (or another car) at Las Vegas, an engine failure at Indianapolis, the pit crew losing the lead at Darlington or a speeding penalty at Watkins Glen (and hitting cars), Busch and the team have been off in recent races despite often having the speed to challenge for wins. In the process, Busch has lost the chance to collect many more playoff points.

He was strong enough Saturday night to win the second stage, giving him his third stage win in the last seven races.

But Busch didn’t have enough at the end to keep Truex behind him.

“We ran OK,” Busch said. “(Truex) could follow closer than I could, and he was better on the long run than I was. Why? Maybe I pushed my tires too hard there at the last stint at the beginning trying to stay ahead of (Denny Hamlin), which gave (Truex) the opportunity to kind of save his stuff and roll around and attack later.”