CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Parker Kligerman figured something was up when Kurt Busch texted him two weeks ago.
When Busch followed with a phone call, he presented Kligerman with an offer the Sprint Cup rookie couldn’t refuse.
“It was kind of out of the blue,” Kligerman said Friday. “He said, ‘I know your situation, it’s unfortunate, but this is the kind of call you want to get: Would you be willing to come and practice the car for me and be on standby while I do this double?'”
Kligerman, out of a ride the last month, jumped at the opportunity to be the standby driver for Busch as he attempts to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. His duties began Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Kligerman was hand-picked to practice Busch’s car for the Sprint All-Star race.
Busch remained in Indianapolis preparing for Saturday’s qualifying session for the 500. He was not expected in North Carolina until shortly before the start of Saturday night’s $1 million exhibition.
Next week, Kligerman will practice the No. 41 Chevrolet in advance of the 600 and stand-by on race day, May 25, in case Busch is delayed arriving from Indianapolis.
“It’s something that is unconventional in our sport, having a chance to drive one of the top cars in a practice session and then be a fly on the wall for the races,” Kligerman said.
Kligerman opened the season with Swan Racing, but sponsorship troubles led the organization to sell of its assets after Darlington in April.
It made him available — and the natural pick — for Busch because the 2004 NASCAR champion was familiar with Kligerman when both drove for Team Penske. Kligerman was in the driver development system at Penske while Busch drove in the Sprint Cup Series.
“We fit in the same seat, and (Busch) knew me from my time at Penske, he knew my driver feedback and our driving styles are similar,” Kligerman said. “This is one of those opportunities where you can’t say anything other than, ‘Yes.'”
While the fit is comfortable for now, Stewart-Haas Racing has work to do to prepare for the 600. Busch has longer legs than Kligerman and needs a different pedal location. Assuming the team prepares the car for Busch, it would be uncomfortable for Kligerman to use those settings for an extended period in the case Busch doesn’t make it to Charlotte for the start of the race.
Kligerman wanted the experience, but said he won’t jump at every opportunity that comes his way.
After a rocky few months with Swan, where he was plagued by bad luck while driving for a fledgling race team, Kligerman said he’ll bide his time for the right chance. His best finish with Swan was 29th in the season-opening Daytona 500, and he did not finish four of his eight races.
“It’s been kind of refreshing, to be honest. When you are at the back end of the Cup Series and fighting and in machines that are struggling, it can wear at you,” Kligerman said. “It’s a little bit refreshing to take a step back, count where you are at and look at the opportunities out there and say ‘I’m not going to do opportunities like that anymore, I’m going to look at opportunities that can forward my career and put me in a better position to win races.”
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