NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: How Quickly a Rising NASCAR Star Can Fade

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. But 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’s 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 times 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, so Riggs debuted in the Cup Series in 2004. In the meantime, Ray Evernham expanded his operations to three cars, 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-five finishes, the heat is certainly being turned up on the Bahama, N.C. 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 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 five in Nextel Cup points; this year has been especially painful for the Statesville-based organization. Riggs’s one top-10 finish in 2007 matches his teammates, Elliott Sadler and Kahne’s success. In short, the flagship organization for Dodge in the Cup Series has been an enormous disappointment this year. With 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.

For the sake of all of the old guys who still dream of making it as a racecar driver, here’s hoping that Riggs will be given a contract extension rather than be let go and, if Busch does come over to MBV, let’s 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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