The Frontstretch: How Quickly A Rising NASCAR Star Can Fade by Mike Neff -- Monday July 2, 2007

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How Quickly A Rising NASCAR Star Can Fade

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday July 2, 2007

 

Stars rise and stars fall in the world of auto racing, and the ones who fall to Earth are far more numerous than the ones that rise above to star in a stock car league like NASCAR.

Well, it appears as though the star of Scott Riggs is about to take that plunge back to Earth if he is not able to start performing better in his Evernham Motorsports ride. That’s a real shame, for Riggs is a driver who, just a few years ago, looked to have finally punched his ticket to the big time after toiling for years to get there, has not been able to find the same stuff that Kasey Kahne has found with EMS, and is in danger of losing his ride as a result.

That Riggs’ job is on the line isn’t all that surprising; the driver clearly doesn’t fit the recent demographic after being moved up to the Cup series when he took over the No. 10 car for Evernham Motorsports. Riggs was 33 years old when he started his first Cup race, an age that in the modern world of NASCAR is far closer to retirement, or at least movement to the Truck series, than it is to making a debut. In fact, Riggs didn't run his first Truck race until he was 28 years old; that makes the fact that he made it to the Cup level at all quite impressive when the series has been more about signing the next hot teenage star rather than putting the next seasoned veteran in the seat.

Simply put, while a driver with talent, Riggs never set the Trucks nor the Busch series on fire. He won four races in two years competing in the Busch Series while visiting the Winners’ Circle five races in 2001 in the Truck Series. However, James Rocco felt like Riggs would be the right fit when he was looking to replace Johnny Benson in the seat of the No. 10 car, and so Riggs debuted in the Cup series in 2004. In the meantime, Ray Evernham expanded his operations to three cars, he merged with MBV Motorsports, and brought Riggs along to continue driving the No. 10. All seemed well in the land of Evernham; while Riggs missed the Daytona 500 in the car, confidence remained high and Riggs turned into one of the most improved drivers by the second half of ’06.

But now that Riggs has been in the series for four years and remains without a victory and only one second place finish out of his four Top 5 finishes, the heat is certainly being turned up on the Bahama, NC native. At this point, Riggs greatest contribution to the series is the fact that he missed the Atlanta race in 2004, a failure which ultimately led to the installation of the "Top 35" rule.

With Kyle Busch being a "free agent", the talk of Riggs losing his job has been heating up. Busch made a visit to Evernham Motorsports last week, and Evernham has made no bones about the fact that he is very interested in adding Busch to his stable of drivers. The thing that is unknown is whether Evernham will add a fourth car to his stable, or will he replace Riggs in his third ride.

But the thing that is hard to stomach for Riggs fans is that Evernham does not seem to have given their man the best of equipment. Evernham has not set the series on fire since making their debut in 2001, with no team ever finishing in the Top 5 in Nextel Cup points; this year has been especially painful for the Statesville-based organization. Riggs’ one top 10 finish in 2007 matches his teammates, Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne’s success. In short, the flagship organization for Dodge in the Cup series has been an enormous disappointment this year. With Kasey Kahne going from leading the series in wins to one top 10 finish in 17 races, there are obviously major problems within that organization.

The problem for Riggs has always been that he is outside of the Top 35 in points, so that leaves him in the uncomfortable position of being forced to make races on time or go home. Well, so far this season, Riggs has failed to make three of the 17 races to date, and that glaring fact is causing many people to think Riggs is in trouble. It’s a shame, because Riggs has been as competitive as his teammates this year; there’s no discernable difference in talent when you look at the finishes. The only thing that matters for Riggs is his age; and in this day and time, it seems they can’t make them young enough when it comes to NASCAR advertising.

Well, for the sake of all of the old guys who still dream of making it as a race car driver, here's hoping that Riggs will be given a contract extension rather than be let go and, if Kyle Busch does come over to MBV, lets hope that he can bring with him some of the knowledge that has been gathered at Hendrick Motorsports since Evernham left there years ago. Seems like this team is in desperate need of the boost any such information would provide.

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Michael McBride
07/03/2007 06:26 AM
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The problem with Riggs is that other than the 2 Toyota entries that were protected for the first 5 races (Jarrett and Blaney), Riggs was the only returning manufacturer protected car to start the year to lose top 35 status. That is a BIG no no. Riggs did an amazing job recovering from missing Daytona in 2006 and end up 20th in pts. (and was protected by midseason in 2006) To punt that away in 2007 is inexcusable, and will get you fired in this cut throat day and age of Nascar.

It’s a shame, but a hrash reality…

bob
07/03/2007 07:20 AM
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Have any of Evernhams drivers done well? How about Casey Atwood? He was put into cup too young and not allowed to develop into whatever caliber of driver he had the talent to become.If Kasey Kahne were in a Hendrick or Gibbs car where would he be today?
Better than eighth in the chase i’m sure.Maybe Ray needs to pay attention to the racing instead of the money.Thats what got him where he is today.

HankZ
07/03/2007 08:10 AM
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Replace Riggs with Steve Grissom, Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson, Ted Musgrave or Randy LaJoie. They all had talent or showed spurts of it. Where are they now? Its the way racing (and the world in general) works. Not every little Johnny gets a trophy (our new fangled society thinks otherwise. God help those kids when they’re in their 20’s and 30’s). Every racecar driver will not have the perfect setup or the perfect team or be backed by millions of bucks and fans. Its just too bad that some of these guys were nothin but test drivers for their respective “popular” teammates. I always liked Benson, Musgrave and Grissom. I thought they were good representatives for the sport. And good clean drivers.

Good article, but every year all you need to do is replace the names. Some rise and some fall.

James Kinnear
07/03/2007 08:12 AM
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Nice article on Riggs, a talented and personable driver caught up in the new nascar young guns mentality. Riggs would be a good replacement for KPin the 45 in 08. Part time fill in drivers just don’t work because of a lack of Team chemistry.

Michael McBride
07/03/2007 09:08 AM
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Or if the drivers are truly all that talented…go the Robby Gordon route and secure your own sponsorship based on your talent for an unprotected non top 35 car entering the season and earn it the hard way!

Sean Decker
07/03/2007 09:27 AM
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After watching Evernham Racing never really achieve the success that it should have as Dodge’s #1 factory team. One begins to wonder how much of Evernham’s success at Hendrick’s was him or was it Jeff Gordon and the rest of Hendrick.

Evernham’s had some good talent past through his doors as drivers and squandered most of it. He tossed Casey Atwood aside for Jeremy Mayfield just as Atwood was really beginning to be successful and by sticking him in Jimmy Smith’s disfunctional disaster of a team, he tainted him. Atwood was never again offered the quality of ride his talent deserved.

Then after Mayfield makes the Chase for him twice, Evernham cannibalizes his team for Kasey Kahne. Not a way to instill driver confidence. No wonder when Mayfield began to flounder he lashed out at Evernham as he watched his former team win races with Kahne while he struggled to get top 15 or 20 finishes.

It’s sad that once again Ray Evernham will probably toss another talented driver on the scrap heap for the failings of his organization as a whole. Scott Riggs deserves better than that but given Evernham’s track record it’s highly unlikely he’ll survive there much longer.

If I were Kyle Busch I’d take a long look at the history at Evernham before I signed anything and if I were Kasey Kahne I’d be seriously wondering what my team owner had just promised the new flavor of the month just to get him to sign up.

I wonder if Elliot Sadler ever has second thoughts about leaving Yates?

Skippy
07/03/2007 09:49 AM
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Unfortunatly it is no longer about raw talent it is all about the sponsors demographics. Kasey Kahne is a prime example.

foxbat73
07/03/2007 11:32 AM
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Please, have any of Ray’s cars done well this year? Elliot Sadler? A true waste of an average race car. He’s a younger Michael Waltrip. I bet Kane would like another ride. Bobby Ginn? Who knows, Ray has proven, just like Michael Waltrip that a mediocre driver can’t make it as a winning owner, an above average crew chief doesn’t make a good owner.

Race Fan
07/03/2007 01:46 PM
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Riggs has also had some bad luck this year during those first five races – two motors blown (Daytona and Atlanta) and a cut tire at Bristol while running in the top five, and he ended up three laps down because the caution did not come out. At Richmond, all he had to do was finish ahead of Casey Mears and he would have gotten into the top 35..he was running well ahead of Mears until his pit crew left a wheel loose on a pit stop and he had to pit under green, losing laps. If Kahne and Sadler were tearing it up, I’d say that maybe Riggs is not cutting it..but it’s clear from the performance of all three cars that something is not right at Evernham. The shame is that chances are, due to his age, this is the last shot Riggs will have to be with a team that is capable of providing good race cars. He’s got the talent to win but he hasn’t really been given the stuff to do it in.

John Wyckoff
07/04/2007 08:03 AM
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Ray Evernham was spoiled brat from childhood. I watched him race here in Jersey and he was one of these drivers who if he wasn’t running well he pulled off and sat out the rest of the race.He rarely gave the effort to try and run better in that particular race. It does not surprise me that expects his drivers to run great right out of the box. He reminds me of the days of Cale Yarborough and the number of crew chiefs he had for 98 team in a season when he was a car owner in the 80’s and 90’s.If anything the idiotic top 35 rule has hurt Riggs more than anything not to mention his racing luck and pit crew mistakes.I would rather see Ray keep Riggs and not replace him with Kyle Busch. If he does he better stock up on a lot of sheet metal and steel.He will certainly have a very busy shop during the week between races.

 

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