Game On; Kligerman, Lofton Battle for Championship Headed to Pocono for Pennsylvania ARCA 200 LONG POND PA (7-29-09) - Following Parker Kligerman's sixth place finish at Berlin Raceway last Saturday night, the current ARCA RE/MAX Series point ...
Game On; Kligerman, Lofton Battle for Championship Headed to Pocono for Pennsylvania ARCA 200
LONG POND PA (7-29-09) - Following Parker Kligerman's sixth place finish at Berlin Raceway last Saturday night, the current ARCA RE/MAX Series point leader, who was sick with the flu at the time, climbed out and said, "That's what championship seasons are made of. They are made of making the best out of your bad days, and that's what we had today - a bad day. I'm feeling sicker and sicker as the adrenaline wears off. It was a rough day out there. No one seemed to have any room for us. Funny how that works out. We'll go to Pocono and make up for it, hopefully with a win."
Having said that, there can be little doubt that the 18-year-old Penske Development driver has refocused his season to accommodate a run for the championship. However, it certainly didn't start out that way. Initially, his Cunningham Motorsports team announced an eight-race schedule stretched out over the entire 2009 season. But after Talladega, the fourth event of the year, Kligerman found himself the point leader. As a result, the team shifted the originally-announced eight races to the front of the schedule hoping they'd find a marketing partner to help them run the whole schedule.
Whether the Cunningham team found a marketing partner or not remains a mystery; however, it's pretty-darn clear at this point, after 12 of 21 races complete, that Kligerman's got his eye on the coveted ARCA RE/MAX Series title.
Unfortunately, he gave up 50 points last weekend to Berlin winner Justin Lofton, who cleaned up with a new one-lap track record in qualifying, leading the most laps and his third career series triumph in the race.
Afterwards, Lofton said, "Like I said; we refocused our strategy and we got it done tonight. And this isn't going to be the last time; I can promise you that."
Lofton's reference to refocusing was in regards to a quote he made earlier in the week.
"We have been in the points-racing mode," proclaimed Lofton. "We're going to change game plans. I feel like we've done enough points racing. It's time to win. We're past the points-racing mode."
Given Lofton's performance at Berlin, the team's change in strategy has appeared to work, at least for now. And given the fact that Kligerman has won five of the last seven races, it's possible that nothing short of wins will work for Lofton, who trails Kligerman by 100 points headed to the next event on tour - the Pennsylvania ARCA 200 Saturday, August 1 at Pocono Raceway.
"We're second in points, and not that far down," continued Lofton. "If Parker were to have trouble early (in the race) somewhere and we have a good run, it can go the other way. I know, because it happened to me earlier this year. We fell off in one race. There's a lot left to this season. Enough points racing; it's time to win. The points will fall in from there."
With just nine races left, it's fair to say that the championship chase is heating up in a big way.
"Parker's doing an awesome job; there's no getting around that. And Penske's obviously putting a lot of effort into it. I wanted to be the one who shut down his win streak."
Lofton finished second at Pocono back in June whereas Kligerman, who fought back from one lap down, finished sixth. Kligerman definitely had a very fast car and was the only driver to track down and pass the eventual winner Joey Logano. However, Kligerman suffered two flat left-front tires that cost him any chance to win the race.
"If we're going to win at Pocono, we've got to do anything we can to stop from losing left fronts," said Kligerman. "I think it had to do with braking; I never touched the rumble strips. We probably need to open up our (brake) ducts and cool it down more. We'll probably try a little different package aero-wise. The fenders may need to be a little different; they could have been rubbing. "Pocono reminds me of a road course in one direction; you just keep turning left. It's all about learning your marks and knowing where to point the car."
Kligerman, who got his first look at Pocono last June, day before the race, seemed to figure the place out in short order. Once Logano passed Lofton for the lead on lap 15, Logano began to stretch his advantage; that was until Kligerman raced his way into second from the sixth starting position. Kligerman tracked down Logano in just a few laps, and drove past like no body's business. From there, Kligerman began to stretch his advantage and led nine laps before his left-front tire lost air coming off turn one. Kligerman had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green and went one lap down. However, he soon made his lap back but experienced the same issue soon thereafter.
Frustrated, Kligerman climbed out of his car after the race and made a bee-line for his hometown of Westport, Connecticut where he attended his senior prom later that night.
Since then, Kligerman, who attended his high school graduation ceremony on June 19th, clicked off four consecutive wins at Michigan, Mansfield, Iowa and Kentucky before last week's race at Berlin where Lofton finally stopped his streak.
"I know I'll be feeling better by the time I get to Pocono," continued Kligerman. "And I'm gunna be better in the race now that we know the track.
"Pocono's a very interesting place. You can have a car that works in two corners, but not in the other. That creates a lot of back and forth racing."
Asked if he was surprised by all his success in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at such a young age, Kligerman responded, "We expected to win. And to win a championship, we feel you have to win races, especially as competitive as things are around here. I can't say I'm really surprised by our success as much as I'm gratified by it."
Certainly, if Kligerman keeps pace, nothing short of wins will do for Lofton, or anyone else - it could be win or lose from here.
On-track activity for the Pennsylvania ARCA 200 starts Friday, July 31 with practice from 10:15 AM to 11:55 AM. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell follows at 1:45 PM. The Pennsylvania ARCA 200 kicks off Saturday afternoon, August 1 at 1:00 PM and is live on SPEED.
In addition, ARCAracing.com will feature live timing & scoring and live streaming audio of all the on-track activity via the ARCA Racing Network.
Tickets for the Pennsylvania ARCA 200, the SPRINT Cup Series event and the entire 2009 Pocono Raceway season are available by contacting the Pocono Raceway Ticket Office at 1-800-RACEWAY (1-800-722-3929), or through www.poconoraceway.com.