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Parker Kligerman scrambles to a fast start at Kentucky as last-minute replacement

2016 NASCAR - Portraits

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Parker Kligerman poses for a photo at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2016 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

NASCAR via Getty Images

SPARTA, Ky. – Parker Kligerman was at home in Connecticut, his driving gear was in the hinterlands of North Carolina, and an opportunity to race a truck was waiting in Kentucky.

That was the situation when Athenian Motorsports team manager Terry Cook called Kligerman at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to ask if he could replace John Wes Townley, who is sidelined while undergoing treatment for a possible concussion.

Through the coordination of Ricky Benton Racing -- his current Camping World Truck Series team -- and Athenian Motorsports – which he’ll drive the No. 05 Jive Communications Chevrolet for Thursday night at Kentucky -- it somehow got resolved.

“Everyone helped me out,” said Kligerman, who wasn’t scheduled to race this week. “Thank you to Ricky Benton and everyone at Ricky Benton Racing for allowing me to do this and their help as well. To be able to hop in this truck at the last minute and help these guys, it’s all the better for them for me to do more racing and hopefully have a good race.”

Athenian Motorsports’ shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, is about three hours from Ricky Benton Racing’s shop in Cerro Gordo. In order to get Kligerman’s gear on the No. 05 truck in time to make the trip Tuesday to Kentucky, a representative from each team each drove to Wadesboro, where the transfer happened.

Having solved those logistics, it was as simple as Kligerman catching a last-minute flight to Cincinnati. He arrived around 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“Didn’t get a ton of sleep, but I don’t mind that,” the Stamford, Connecticut, resident said. “I don’t like sleep. I’m here. I’m having fun.”

He certainly was in the rain-delayed first practice Wednesday afternoon, turning the fastest lap at 179.099 mph on the 1.5-mile oval that recently was repaved for the first time.

Kligerman, 25, has a measure of confidence from being in a truck that Townley put on the pole position at Kansas Speedway in May.

“I think this whole team does really well,” he said. “John Wes does great with it. I think this whole Athenian Motorsports team is really top notch. These are great trucks.

“I think we’re all going to be thrown for a loop with the tire here and this new pavement. It’s going to be about really being smart all weekend as the track gains grip or loses grip at times, and as it cures, as we lay rubber down, that’s going to be the key. It’s going to be tough to keep up with, but I think seeing the speed they have, at least we know we have that.”

It isn’t the first time Kligerman has gotten up to speed quickly with Athenian Motorsports. He was fastest in an open test May 31st Pocono Raceway while subbing in the team’s ARCA car for Townley (who was attending to the death of a family member).

“We were really successful and led the whole thing,” Kligerman said. “I feel we left them a really good car. That was where we realized it worked. So when this issue came up, I was someone they could just call.”

The team also asked Kligerman to replace Townley in its ARCA car Saturday at Iowa Speedway, but the driver who doubles as an NBC Sports analyst is committed to being on NBCSN’s “Victory Lap” after the Sprint Cup race at Kentucky.

“It’s always tough to hop into someone else’s situation,” Kligerman said. “Obviously, most importantly is hoping John gets better and comes back. I’m just appreciative for the opportunity to go out here and do a race.”

Kligerman has three top 10s in eight starts this season for Ricky Benton Racing, briefly leading the points after opening with a second and an eighth. A lack of funding sidelined RBR two weeks ago at Gateway Motorsports Park, and the No. 92 Ford isn’t scheduled to return until Bristol Motor Speedway next month.

Kligerman said RBR likely will run five to six more races after that, including Martinsville Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Though missing a race technically puts his playoff eligibility in doubt, Kligerman remains 17th in the points standings. If he were able to win, Kligerman said he would consider petitioning NASCAR for a spot in the inaugural Camping World Truck Series playoffs despite not meeting the requirement of starting every race.

“You never know,” he said. “Why not ask? If I missed a race because of a lack of ride, but if I won, and I’d done all but one race, it would be interesting. But I’ll worry about that if it comes.”