DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Parker Kligerman raced his way into the field for a race he never thought he would compete in again and he did it with a little help from his friend Kyle Busch.
Kligerman put the Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota into the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500 and he did it the hard way – he had to race his way into the field. With so few positions available in the 40-car starting lineup for Sunday’s race, Kligerman had to finish ahead of Ryan Truex and Tyler Reddick in order to get in.
But in order to do that, he needed some help.
It arrived in the form of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, which had spun earlier in the race on lap 27 after contact with Jimmie Johnson.
Busch found Kligerman’s Toyota on the race track and was able to push Kligerman’s No. 96 through the field to a 12th-place finish – one position ahead of Reddick and two ahead of Truex.
“We did what we could in order to help the 96 there at the end and try to get him pushed forward a little bit and get him into the show,” Busch told SPEED SPORT after the race. “I was confused what all was going on there, but if it helped him, that’s good.”
Busch’s benevolence was part friendship and part business. After all, both drivers were in Toyota Camrys.
“It’s good that he was behind the wheel of a Toyota,” Busch said. “If it wouldn’t have been that, I would have been out of the way; it wouldn’t have been my problem. We try to help out all the guys we can wearing the Toyota badge.”
At one time, Kligerman had a promising career as a stock car driver. He won nine ARCA races in 2009 for team owner Briggs Cunningham and finished second in the championship. One year later, he was driving a Xfinity Series schedule that was split between Smith Iron Works and later, with team owner Roger Penske.
He drove for Brad Keselowski in the Truck Series in 2011. In 2013, Kyle Busch hired Kligerman to run a full-season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He finished ninth in the championship and the following season made his Daytona 500 debut for Swan Racing, finishing 29th.
That was effectively the end of his full-time racing career. Except for a smattering of races over the next five years, Kligerman’s ability to speak articulately led him to a television role with NBC Sports.
After his finish Thursday at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Kligerman will move from the NBC studio to the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“Earlier in the race, I lost the draft and I ran in the middle there for three-wide for a couple of laps and couldn’t get anyone to help me,” Kligerman said. “They were diving out of the way like I was a disease. I finally found some refuge and when we were back with Tyler Reddick and Truex, there was nothing I could do until thankfully Kyle Busch lost the draft.
“He came to the back, we put that TRD power together and we flew up past the Chevrolet cars and it was awesome. I would have never been able to do it without Kyle Busch’s help.”
On pit road after the race, Kligerman was understandably excited.
“This is awesome, this is incredible, I just can’t believe we raced our way in the Daytona 500,” Kligerman said. “It was insane those last couple of laps. But it’s a bit bittersweet it’s a good buddy of mine that I had to beat in Ryan Truex. We were just blocking each other at the end, but we got this Toyota into the Daytona 500.”
Over the last 15 laps, Kligerman had to go backwards to find Busch, in order to go forward. Once the Toyota tandem hooked up, it was up to Kligerman to maintain the advantage over Truex.
“To be a part of the Daytona 500 and to race our way into the Daytona 500 is great,” Kligerman said. “Getting some help from Kyle Busch is cool. I drove for him a couple of years ago and I’ve always had a good relationship with him and a lot of respect for him and he’s been very nice to me to help me out.
“We don’t hang out together, but I know I can reach out to him any time I want if there is every anything I need.”
He needed Busch’s help and he got it in the closing laps. And now, the race driver-turned-television-announcer is getting to be a race driver in NASCAR’s biggest race.
“I have 533 texts right now, that shows you how big making the Daytona 500 is,” Kligerman said.