After qualifying 17th for Saturday's Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Parker Kligerman maneuvered his way into the top 10 in the early stages of the race as he and crew chief Eric Phillips worked on dialing in his Camry. As the race progressed into the second half, the handling on the No. 77 Toyota went from tight to extremely loose and the Connecticut native began drifting backwards outside of the top 15. Kligerman communicated to his crew that he believed a shock had malfunctioned, upsetting his car across the many bumps on the seasoned track, and with just under 40 laps remaining surrendered a lap to eventual race winner Kevin Harvick. A late caution allowed the team to take the "wave around" and return to the lead lap, leaving the youngster in the 18th spot for the final restart with 12 laps remaining. Over the course of the final run, the 23-year-old driver muscled his way past two competitors and salvaged a 16th-place finish.
"We ended up 16th -- it just wasn't our night," Kligerman said. "We really probably had a car that I felt like was a top-10 and during the first portion of the race we got into the top-10 and started to stay there and then we're not sure if something broke or something happened, but we really were then relegated back to about an 18th-place car. We were able to salvage a 16th at the end. We're not sure what happened, but we'll be sure to inspect everything. None of these guys gave up and we salvaged at least a better finish than we ran there at the end. We'll move on to Richmond where we just recently tested and had a good test, so hopefully we can go out there and have a good run."
After finishing fourth and sixth, respectively, in the two practice sessions, the No. 77 team entered Saturday evening's qualifying session optimistic of earning a top-10 starting position. Kligerman's lap of 31.304 seconds at 177.102 mph earned him the 17th starting spot for the 195-lap race. After his lap he communicated that his Camry was "really tight," but both driver and crew chief felt that being tight in the early stages of the race would be beneficial when the hot Atlanta sun went down and the track temperatures cooled.
By the time the first caution of the race occurred on lap 36, Kligerman was only able to advance two spots as he communicated that his Camry was still really tight, especially in traffic. Phillips summoned his driver to pit road, where the over-the-wall crew executed a four-tire and fuel stop and returned their driver to the track scored in the 12th spot for the lap-40 restart.
Kligerman had a strong restart and by the time that the field returned to the start-finish line had moved up to the 10th spot. He remained 10th when a one-car spin slowed the field for a second time and communicated that his Toyota was "a little better from what I can tell so far."
When the green came back out on lap 48, the talented youngster once again gained a position on the restart, advancing up to ninth on lap 49. As a long green-flag run ensued, Kligerman exclaimed that his Toyota was "really, really tight" as he began subsiding. By lap 80 he had fallen back to the 17th spot, just before regularly scheduled stops began. On lap 91, the No. 77 machine came down pit road for a four-tire and fuel stop and returned to the track scored in the 16th position when pit stops cycled through.
Shortly after returning to the track, a debris caution occurred, slowing the field for the third time. With only one car behind him on the lead lap and the young driver once again experiencing a tight-handling Camry, Phillips elected to come down pit road to fill the car with fuel and lower the track bar in an effort to improve its balance.
Kligerman took the lap-108 restart from the 17th spot and once again was able to pick up several spots. By lap 110, his Camry had advanced into the 12th spot, but his time in the top 15 would be short lived. As he described his Toyota as "wrecking loose on entry and unable to get through the bumps," the 23-year old slid back to the 18th spot and on lap 154 went a lap down to Harvick.
On lap 181, Jeff Green and Ken Butler made contact, sending Green hard into the frontstretch wall and bringing out the final caution of the race. When pit road opened, Harvick and other lead lap cars visited pit road, so Kligerman and several other cars a lap down stayed on the track and took the "wave around."
The No. 77 Camry took the final restart from the 18th spot. Both driver and crew chief hoped for another quick caution which would allow them to put on the final set of fresh Goodyear tires and make one final adjustment, however, the race would remain caution free until the end. Despite still battling a very loose Toyota, Kligerman was able to muscle his way up to the 16th spot and was closing in on Brian Vickers in the 15th spot when the checkered flag waved.
Harvick picked up his first Nationwide Series win on 2013, the 40th of his career. KBM owner Kyle Busch finished 0.579 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot. Sam Hornish Jr. finished third, Kasey Kahne fourth and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five finishers.
There were four caution periods totaling 20 laps. Seven drivers led a lap, exchanging the lead 11 times. Twelve drivers failed to finish the 24th event of 2013.
Kligerman remains 10th in the Nationwide Series championship standings with 23 of 33 races complete, 1118 points behind series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. The Kyle Busch owned No. 77 remains 13th in the owner's championship standings, 223 points behind the series-leading No. 22 team.
Kligerman and his No. 77 Toyota Racing team head to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Sept. 6 for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250. Live television coverage of Saturday's 187.5-mile event begins with NASCAR Countdown at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN 2.