By HOLLY CAIN
NASCAR Wire Service
Parker Kligerman may be a popular television race commentator but the 31-year old Connecticut driver reminded the NASCAR world that he is first, a race car driver, winning Saturday’s Inaugural O’Reilly Auto Parts 150 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in a highly-spirited final laps battle with Zane Smith.
Ultimately, Kligerman held off the three-time race winner Smith – the two crossing the line side-by-side with Kligerman’s No. 75 Henderson Racing Chevrolet taking a .119-second margin of victory in a race that concluded with all the drama expected of a road course event.
Smith – who won at Circuit of the Americas and finished runner-up at both Sonoma, Calif. and Mid-Ohio – takes a great “consolation prize” with his second-place finish Saturday. He heads into the regular season finale in two weeks now only two points away from earning the 2022 regular season Camping World Truck Series championship.
Saturday’s victory is the third career series win for Kligerman and first since 2017. And he becomes the series’ 17th consecutive different winner on a road course.
“It’s hard to put into words [what this means], I was pretty emotional on the cool-down lap because this whole team it’s like a team of second chances,” said an absolutely elated Kligerman of his small team.
“Two years ago, I thought my driving days were done. This team gave me a call, wanting to get back racing and it’s just been a steady improvement.
“It’s just unbelievable when you put a talented group of humans together, what they achieve,’’ Kligerman said of his Henderson Racing team, which employs only one fulltime crew member. “And we’re doing this on absolutely a fraction of the trucks we run against.
“This is a small team that ‘could,’ but we’re not a small team that doesn’t win,’’ Kligerman shouted turning toward the crowd. “We win.”
Corey Heim was making it a three-truck contest for the trophy, going wheel to wheel with Kligerman and Smith for what would have been an extra $150,000 Triple Truck Challenge bonus for him when his No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota suddenly lost power. That brought out the seventh caution period of the day and left the trophy to be decided in a frantic three-lap sprint by Kligerman and Smith, who each won a stage.
Kligerman, who led a race best 56 of the 67 laps -also earned a $50,000 bonus for his win in the third and final round of the Triple Truck Challenge.
Carson Hocevar finished third with Stewart Friesen and Christian Eckes rounding out the top five. Chandler Smith, Kaz Grala, Derek Kraus and Shelby Howard finished sixth through ninth with Hailie Deegan earning a 10th place finish – her first top 10 of the 2022 season.
Mid-Ohio was especially tough for race favorites and championship contenders. John Hunter Nemechek, who entered the race trailing Smith by only 21 points in the standings was still hoping to race for his second consecutive Camping World Truck Series regular season championship. Instead, Nemechek’s No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota had mechanical problems about midway through the race.
The KBM team worked on the truck in the garage to repair a problem with third gear. Nemechek returned to the race with only 18 laps remaining and was able to make up enough ground to stay in second place in the standings – tied with Chandler Smith – but now 58 points behind Zane Smith.
Reigning series champion Ben Rhodes also experienced mechanical problems mid-race and was never able to challenge up front. He finished 23rd.
Drivers Ty Majeski (12th), Eckes (fifth) and Hocevar (third), secured their Playoff berths with their results on Saturday. Ninth place Grant Enfinger and 10th place Matt Crafton still must battle Kraus for Playoff position. The three-time series champion Crafton holds a 19-point advantage over the 20-year old Kraus entering the final regular season race.
The regular season concludes July 23 at Pocono (Ra.) Raceway with the CRC Brakeleen 150 (noon ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The top 10 drivers in the standings will contend in a seven-race Playoff to determine the 2022 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.