Nikki Krone · Monday March 14, 2005
We’re only three races into the 2005 NEXTEL Cup Series season, and so far it has not been kind to the series’ sophomore drivers. Of the four drivers who competed for the title last season, only three remain in the series—Scott Riggs, Kasey Kahne, and Scott Wimmer. Brendan Gaughan was released by Penske Racing after just one season and is now running a partial Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
Last year, Kahne was by far the most successful rookie, taking home Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors after earning four poles and 13 top-fives, and finishing 13th in the final point standings. Wimmer, in the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge, ended up 27th after earning just two top-tens and one top-five, while Riggs, in the No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet, brought up the rear earning just two top-ten finishes and one top-five to finish 29th in the points.
With three races in the books, the roles are now reversed.
In three races, Kahne has earned back-to-back DNFs, at Fontana and Las Vegas finishing 40th and 38th respectively. In 2004, Kahne earned his second of five second-place finishes at Vegas, but Lady Luck chose to look the other way this time. On lap 154, Kahne was running all by himself when his Dodge Charger spun and backed into the wall, putting an early end to his day. Now, Kahne sits all the way back in 38th in the point standings, 331 behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
For Wimmer, this season began with a 33rd at Daytona after his involvement in a wreck that sent him tumbling through the air and temporarily losing his breath. He and his team were able to rebound to a 16th place finish at Fontana, but their luck didn’t hold up at Vegas. After moving into and running in the top-15 during the mid-point of the race, Wimmer ended the day one lap down with a 27th place finish and fell four positions to 29th in points.
While all three drivers had their share of problems last season, it seems as though Riggs may have been the most unfortunate of them all. But after earning just one top-five in 2004, and being bitten by bad luck more than his fair share of times, things looked to be turning around for Riggs and his MBV team, beginning at Daytona in February.
After a 34th place finish in his first ever Cup race at the track in 2004, Riggs came back in 2005 to start the season with an impressive fourth place run in the “Great American Race”. Hoping it was a sign of great things to come, Riggs seemed to have a new sense of confidence heading to Fontana, California—and with good reason.
After qualifying 12th (for the second race in a row) Riggs was running in the eighth position before a pit road miscue sent him back to 36th. However, a determined Riggs motored through the crowd back into the top-ten before experiencing engine problems that left him with a 33rd place finish. While it wasn’t the perfect ending, it was a solid performance that gave the driver and team an extra shot of confidence heading into the off-weekend.
“I’ve had a rocketship under me every week,” said Riggs heading into Vegas. “I can’t say for sure that we’ll be successful when we get to Vegas, but I’m so confident in this team and these cars that I’m willing to bet we will be. We’re taking the same car to Las Vegas that we took to Fontana (California Speedway) and everyone knows what a good car that was.”
When the NEXTEL Cup Series competitors reconvened at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Riggs and his team once again showed that they were there to contend, not just content to run. Riggs earned the fourth fastest time in qualifying, but the No. 10 was forced to start at the back of the pack after a transmission change prior to qualifying.
In spite of starting at the back, Riggs, who not only had to fight his fellow competitors but was also battling the flu, powered his No. 10 machine towards the front and by lap 56 was already in the 15th position.
With the help of a caution on lap 66, when Matt Kenseth got into the back of Elliott Sadler (collecting Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Jeff Burton in the process) Riggs made his way to the ninth position and began his fight to the top-five—and fight he did!
Riggs wrestled for positions with drivers such as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, and rose to every challenge. After fighting hard for every position and maintaining a presence for a majority of the race, Riggs was involved in a solo spin on lap 195.
With the caution displayed for the spin, Riggs and his team made their first and only mistake of the race, opting to stay on the track until the pits opened. While circling the track, the tire came apart and tore up the right front fender, ruining any chance of a top finish and relegating him to a 31st place run.
“We should’ve come in and pit right then, knowing we had flat tires,” said Riggs, “but we tried to catch up with the field and not lose a lap and the tire ended up tearing off the front right fender. That’s what really hurt us.”
While Riggs was still able to smile following the mishap at Fontana, knowing the potential his team always had is now finally able to shine through, his frustration was apparent after Vegas. It was obvious that Riggs was beginning to feel the strain of his team’s potential being stifled.
“It’s disappointing to have good cars in California and Las Vegas and not come home with a deserving finish either week,” said Riggs. “I can’t explain how frustrating it is. This team has improved so much this season, but we haven’t gotten finishes to show for it. That’s what we have to work on.”
Although Riggs emotions may have kept him from seeing exactly how positive things are at this point, it was not lost on his crew chief, Doug Randolph.
“Scott was on the wheel today and drove like crazy,” said Randolph. “We had one of the fastest cars on the track and went to the front, like we knew we would. Every team out there knew we were here today, just like they did in California and Daytona. We’ll just have to get them next week.”
While they have experienced their share of problems, the team is already heads and tails above where they were in 2005. Riggs is 22nd in points, but just 231 points behind the leader and ahead of Jeremy Mayfield (26th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (27th) and Matt Kenseth (28th), who were all contenders for the championship last season.
It may have taken them a season, but the chemistry between Riggs and his MBV team is now obvious and the hard work is paying off. Never content to just run in the back, they are finally able to show the rest of the field and the fans what they are made of.
As for Riggs, with the driving skill and sheer tenacity that he has shown—as evidenced against fellow competitors such as Jeff Gordon in Sunday’s race at Vegas—he is finally able to demonstrate the talent and drive that earned him four Busch Series and five Craftsman Truck Series victories. After seeing the team’s improved chemistry, their hard work in the pits, and Riggs’ talent and new confidence, NASCAR fans should not be surprised to see the No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet in Victory Lane by the end of the season.
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