After spending three years away from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Parker Kligerman will return to the top level of stock car racing in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 in a one-off start with Gaunt Brothers Racing.
Before taking to the track this weekend, the 27-year-old shared his thoughts with POPULAR SPEED.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts going into the Coke 600?
PARKER KLIGERMAN: Well, we were able to do a test with our Toyota Camry at Charlotte and felt like we learned a lot. This is the first mile and a half for this team, but my crew chief Mike Hilman has a lot of experience on mile and a halfs in Cup. It’s uncharted territory for all of us as a team, but we’re cautiously optimistic. We’ve done the preparation that we can do as a small team, so we’re ready for the longest race of the season in the sport.
I think, for me, there’s a lot to learn in terms of driving style in jumping in a Cup car since it’s been a couple years since I’ve been in one, but I have a lot of experience around me which has been big.
PS: What are some challenges on not only being the longest race of the year, but Charlotte Motor Speedway in general?
PARKER: It’s tough because as a mile and a half, it’s really unique. Turns one and two are completely different than any other track that we go to that’s a mile and a half. It’s got a very unique way that you enter the corner so because of that, it can make the cars really unsettle in the entry of the corners, especially these Cup cars with the low downforce. With the way they’re set up now, that’s something you fight in being loose on entry. You can lose or gain a lot of time in those sections, and it’s really a challenging place to just be consistent and have a car that you feel like will do the same thing through a run.
Then if you add in the fact that going 600 miles you will from day time to night time, that’s other variable. It’s just a really hard track to keep up with in terms of what your car is handling-wise through the race.
PS: Now there’s been discussions about the length of races, and whether they’re too long at times. Entering what is known as the longest race of the year, what are your thoughts on that very topic as a whole?
PARKER: I don’t hate the idea of some of our races being shorter. The marquee events like the Daytona 500, Talladega 500, Coke 600 – those are events that have to stay this way; that’s what makes them what they are. But I look at certain races that could maybe benefit from being a shorter race. I’ve heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. say it a bunch and that is if we’re providing a good enough product, then no matter how long it is, fans will want to watch it. So at the end of the day, I think we need to keep working at providing a better racing product and provide the best show and if it’s good enough, people will want to watch, no matter how long it is.
I don’t think – I’m not part of the group that believes if the races aren’t as long, say two hours, that everything will be better and more people will watch and the shorter attention thing. I think it’s a bit of baloney. At the end of the day, the NFL has very long games, there’s long baseball games –all sports are around the same amount of time, and we’re no different, and at the end of the day, if you can make the product compelling enough, then the time doesn’t matter.
PS: What’s the biggest difference between a truck and a Cup car?
PARKER: Well, it’s a massive difference. In terms of downforce, the trucks are high-downforce, low horsepower – and then in the Cup cars, you have a lot more horsepower, a lot less downforce. The cars are harder to drive, the competition level is as high as you can achieve so it’s the best of the best. That doesn’t only means the drivers, but in terms of teams, engineering.
At the end of the day, a lot of Cup cars are closer to Formula 1 cars than they are to regular cars these days. It’s an incredibly competitive, the most competitive series in the world in my eyes. The trucks are a little bit more relaxed, a bit of more grassroots of a racing series, and it reminds me a lot of fun. It has a good level of competition, and puts on great races – there’s no doubt about that, but the two series are vastly different because it’s a feeder series to the Cup series. So it shouldn’t be what the Cup Series is, and it isn’t.
PS: How would you characterize your truck series season so far?
PARKER: We’ve had an okay start. Daytona and Atlanta were okay. Daytona we were super fast and we had the same truck that we won Talladega with. I think it was just as fast as we were at Talladega and bearing getting in that wreck that shouldn’t have happened, we should have won that race. There’s no superspeedway in trucks that I don’t think we can win with this team. We’ve proven it once, and we can definitely do it again. At Atlanta, we fought a loose truck all weekend and in that race, we just missed out in scoring a top-10, finishing 11th at the line side-by-side with Austin Dillon.
Then we went to Dover, and we had possibly the fastest truck there. We were able to run up front with old tires and lead some laps and were actually running Johnny Sauter back down when our oil cooler got a hole in it, and we had to quit the race. That was unfortunate. That’s like the third race at Dover that I had the winning truck, or a truck that could’ve won, and I’ve finished second or not finished at all. So that place feels like it’s only a matter of time I win a race there, and hopefully a lot of them, and that’s how our season has been so far.
Catch Parker Kligerman when NBC Sports begins their portion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, starting off with Chicagoland Speedway on July 1.
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