After starting Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series season-opening DRIVE4COPD 300 from the third position, Parker Kligerman quickly decided the best strategy would be to ride around near the back of the pack in the early stages of the 120-lap race and then "chip" his way back through the field in the second half of the race.
The talented youngster executed his plan to near perfection, maneuvering his No. 77 Bandit Chippers Camry to the front of the field with 20 laps remaining.
"This Bandit Chippers Camry was awesome and these Joe Gibbs Racing motors just had a ton of power," said Kligerman, who was making his 19th career Nationwide Series start.
"They were really reliable -- obviously in the draft being able to get up to hot temperatures and continue. This entire Nationwide Series is just so much fun and I had such a good time out here today."
Once the green flag waved, Kligerman paired up with pole sitter Trevor Bayne and over the first three laps the two opened up a five-car length lead on the rest of the field.
On lap four, the engine on the No. 77 Bandit Chippers Camry began to heat up, forcing Kligerman to disengage from Bayne and the two began surrendering positions. By the time the first caution of the race occurred on lap seven, KBM's young driver had fallen to the 13th spot.
Kligerman decided that the best way to avoid being in an early accident was to fall to the back of the field. He informed veteran spotter Earl Barban of his plan and the veteran "eyes in the sky" helped guide his young driver into a position outside the top 10, where he would remain until the race was beyond the halfway point.
"We obviously played it pretty safe in the beginning of the race, but I just knew how hot and slick it was and how many guys were unable to tandem for such a long time," Kligerman said.
"We just hung out -- the 33 (Tony Stewart) was back there with me, the 22 (Brad Keselowski), 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) -- I knew I was in good company."
The Bandit Chippers Camry was scored in the 13th position when a four-car accident slowed the race for the third time on lap 64. Crew chief Eric Phillips summoned his young driver to pit road, where the KBM over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop and returned the No. 77 Toyota to the track scored in the sixth position.
When the fourth caution of the race occurred on lap 85, the Connecticut native remained inside the top 10. He brought his Camry down pit road, where his crew topped it off with fuel and returned him to the track scored in the fourth position for the lap-90 restart.
On lap 97, Kligerman connected with Kyle Larson and pushed the rookie to the lead. A few laps later the youngsters swapped positions and on lap 100 the Bandit Chippers Camry was at the front of the field. Just after taking the lead, the engine expired on Kyle Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing entry, slowing the field for the fifth time.
When the race resumed on lap 107, with the aid of another push from 19-year-old Larson, 22-year-Kligerman remained on point for the next four laps. When temperatures rose on Larson's engine, the two disengaged and the youngsters fell to the back half of the top 10.
The first of two massive wrecks came in the form of a 13-car pile-up with five laps remaining. With cars and debris scattered everywhere, race officials set the race to red-flag conditions and parked what was left of the field on the backstretch.
The Bandit Chippers Camry was scored in the eighth position for the green-white-checkered finish. Kligerman remained in the eighth spot when the field returned to the start-finish line and took the white flag.
On the final lap, he connected with fellow Toyota driver Alex Bowman and the two made a strong push towards the lead two-card tandem of Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. Their momentum carried Bowman into the back of Hornish Jr. and he was forced to check-up, allowing a few other tandems to work their way by the two young Toyota pilots.
As the field came off Turn 4 and approached the finish line, the No. 77 Toyota was in the ninth position. Regan Smith, the leader, attempted to block Brad Keselowski's push for the lead and the two went spinning. Kligerman narrowly avoided a spinning Smith, caromed off another competitor and emerged from the 12-car melee with a fifth-place finish in his KBM debut.
Tony Stewart picked up his seventh career Nationwide Series victory at Daytona. Hornish Jr. finished in the runner-up position and Bowman came home third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kligerman rounded out the top-five finishers in the season-opening event.
There were seven caution periods for 26 laps. Twenty different drivers led at least one lap, exchanging the lead a race-record 26 times, including Kilgerman who led once for 10 laps. Eighteen drivers failed to finish the 120-lap race.
Kyle Busch Motorsports