By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Watching Speedweeks from home a year ago, Parker Kligerman said he never thought he’d be back in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series car, let alone starting Sunday’s Daytona 500 again.
Now, the 28-year old has a date with the Great American Race after racing his way into the field with his finish in the first of the two 60-lap Gander RV Duel qualifying events, marking his second start in the race and first since 2014.
“Here’s the crazy thing, a year ago, I watched this race and I felt like I’d probably never get a chance to be in this race again,” Kligerman said. “A couple of weeks ago, I’m in this media center doing pit reporting during the Daytona 24 Hours and now I’m sitting up here talking to you guys as a guy who just made the Daytona 500.”
Without a fast enough qualifying time to fall back on, the mission for Kligerman entering Thursday night’s race was simple: finish ahead of the other two open cars in his race – Ryan Truex and Tyler Reddick. While they had other avenues to make the Daytona 500, Kligerman’s only path toward a starting spot on Sunday was to beat both drivers.
For much of the race, it looked as if he would fall short of that goal, as both Reddick and Truex seemed to have faster cars or more luck in the draft. Then, a former car owner of Kligerman’s came calling with a lifeline.
Kyle Busch, who owned the Xfinity Series car Kligerman drove back in 2013, had run into trouble earlier in the race after getting spun by Jimmie Johnson and was running a lap down behind the lead pack. With Kligerman needing a helping hand, the two Toyota drivers hooked up in the draft, allowing Kligerman’s No. 96 entry to power past Reddick and Truex to assume the transfer spot with two laps to go.
From then on, Kligerman was able to keep them behind him and crossed the finish line in 12th and secure his spot.
“It’s incredible, man,” Kligerman added. “What a weird race though. Ryan Truex and I come out of the pits together and then we’re racing with him, (Tyler) Reddick and I. Then, finally the only way we made it in really was that last run Kyle Busch lost the draft and he fell back, and we put that TRD power together and we flew past Tyler Reddick and that’s what made it happen. Without him I don’t think I would’ve been able to beat those two.
“I’m just so pumped for Marty Gaunt (team owner) and Gaunt Brothers Racing, Toyota and everyone that helps us get here to be a part of the Daytona 500 and to race our way into the Daytona 500. It is a little bittersweet though knowing that (Ryan) Truex didn’t make it. He’s a good friend of mine. I think he’s one of the most underrated drivers in this 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.”