It was a wild day for Westport, Connecticut's Parker Kligerman on Sunday. The 22-year old driver made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut for Swan Racing at Texas Motor Speedway during the AAA Texas 500. Kligerman's expectations going into the race were low. He had never run a race in a Sprint Cup Series type racecar and the team he was racing for is a solo car operation who only had three top 20 finishes all season long before Sunday. It looked like an opportunity for Kligerman to just get his feet wet in Sprint Cup but Sunday was more than that.
Kligerman finished in the 18th position and turned heads doing it. Kligerman also qualified in the 23rd position, the best starting position by the team all season long. His top 20 finish wasn't a lucky top 20, Kligerman ran in the top 20 for most of the race and gave the team their best race all year long. The team had veteran driver David Stremme drive 25 of the first 26 races of the 2013 season and Stremme finished in the top 20 three times. Two of them came at Bristol Motor Speedway and the other one came on a Superspeedway track at Talladega. The team has shown some competitiveness on those tracks but they consistently struggled on the cookie cutter type race tracks. The team's best finish on a 'cookie cutter' type track prior to Sunday was a 26th place run at Michigan International Speedway by Stremme in August which makes Kligerman's feat on Sunday even more spectacular.
The team's driver lineup for the 2014 season is still a mystery. David Stremme was the driver until the team replaced him after Richmond and decided to use young drivers for the remainder of the season. Cole Whitt has driven six of the eight races since Richmond and had a best finish of 27th at Dover International Speedway in September. Kevin Swindell drove for the team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. Swindell finished in the 38th position after crashing early.
Both drivers are considered by many experts as extremely talented drivers. Kligerman can also be considered in that category but his run on Sunday has moved him higher on the list of candidates for Swan Racing in 2014. With the 18th place finish one can't help but wonder if Kligerman will be used at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks for the Sprint Cup Series season finale. Whitt is listed on the entry list for Phoenix this weekend.
Kligerman's plans for the 2014 season are up in the air. In a solo car operation at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Kligerman is tenth in points and has 12 top ten finishes in 31 races this season. Not bad considering the team has to compete against powerhouses like Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Kyle Busch Motorsports is rumored to be closing down at the end of the season which would mean Kligerman is out of a ride. Joe Gibbs Racing's #20 NASCAR Nationwide Series car has a vacancy since Brian Vickers is moving from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. Kligerman could be considered a candidate for that ride as well as several others.
It's not often in a Sprint Cup Series debut that a young driver improves their stakes for the future in just one race. Kligerman did that. His race on Sunday was impressive even if he was two laps down to winner Jimmie Johnson at the end. He beat veteran drivers in top teams like Elliott Sadler, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Danica Patrick, Aric Almirols, and Jamie McMurray. He beat young superstar drivers like Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. It was a great stepping stone for Kligerman to use to gain future opportunities.
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