Parker Kligerman thought his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career was over. He thought he’d never get another opportunity to compete in the Daytona 500.
Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 14), he earned himself a second chance.
The driver of the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota held off Ryan Truex in the closing stages of Gander Outdoors RV Duel No. 1 to earn himself a spot in The Great American Race. Kligerman was able to stay ahead of Truex’s No. 71 with an assist from Kyle Busch, who spun earlier in the race and lended a helping hand to his Toyota teammate.
“First of all, I gotta thank Kyle,” Kligerman said following his 12th-place finish. “When he fell out of the draft, I mean that was what it took. If we didn’t have him and all that TRD power working together, there would’ve been no way I would’ve passed Tyler Reddick.”
Kligerman’s jubilation was juxtaposed with his disappointment for Truex, who finished two spots behind Kligerman.
“Man I hate it for him, he put up a hell of a fight,” Kligerman said of Truex. “It was so weird that we came out of pit lane together and we were drafting together. I was like ‘of all things, us two locked together…’ and we have been our whole career. This is awesome, an amazing feeling, everybody has worked so hard to get this Toyota in the race, but it’s bittersweet knowing he’s out. He’s a good friend of mine. I really think he’s one of the most underrated drivers in the sport.”
The two shared a brief conversation on pit road following the conclusion of the 60-lap qualifying race, along with Truex’s older brother, 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.
“We were talking about how we came out of pit lane together,” Kligerman said. “Of all things, we’re riding in the draft, he did a good job, we’re coming out of pit lane and it’s just us two. I’m like ‘are you kidding me?’ And we let the No. 31 go […] so I knew it was us, mono e mono. We both lost the draft, I ran three-wide in the middle and I couldn’t get anyone to help me. They just kept diving out of the way like I was a disease. I finally found some refuge and when we were back there, there was nothing I could do until thankfully, Kyle Busch lost the draft, he came back and we put that TRD power together, follow by those ECR cars and I would never have been able to do it without Kyle Busch’s help.”
When asked whether the feeling of making the biggest stock car race in North America was relief or excitement, Kligerman couldn’t put his finger on either one.
“This is awesome, this is incredible,” he said. “I can’t believe we just raced our way into the Daytona 500. It was insane those last couple laps. It’s a bit bittersweet knowing he’s a good buddy of mine. It’s about this Toyota Camry getting in the race, and we did that […] we gotta do a little handling work for the 500, but that was awesome, I enjoyed it.”
Kligerman revealed his team, Gaunt Brothers Racing, will run the first three races of 2019 despite not having a charter. They’re planning on about 12 starts in 2019 with a schedule the driver called “quality over quantity.”