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Monday, January 15, 2007

NASCAR Driver Preview: Scott Riggs

Scott Riggs Age: 36
0 wins, 1 top 5, 8 top 10’s, 13 top 15’s
Avg start: 19.5 Avg finish: 20.3
Points Standing: 20th Driver Rating: 71.2
#10 Valvoline Dodge Crew Chief: Rodney Childers

After two mediocre seasons at the Cup level, Scott Riggs finally broke out in his third year. An offseason move to Evernham motorsports made a big difference in Riggs' ability to consistently run up front. After six top tens in his first two years combined, Riggs scored eight in 2006 and he could have had several more. After a sour beginning, the year turned out pretty sweet. If there was an award for Breakthrough Driver, Riggs was deserving.

It seems like ancient history, but Riggs began the year by not qualifying for the Daytona 500. A mechanical issue ruined his qualifying run. Then in the Twin 150 race, his fate was sealed by a mistake during a pit stop. The brand new team missed the biggest race of the season. Not only that, but they were in an immediate hole for entering the top 35 in owners points. Fortunately it was the only race Riggs missed. After a 19th at California, a 28th at Las Vegas and an 11th at Atlanta, Riggs was safely inside the magical top 35.

Riggs had some solid runs in the spring, especially a 10th at Martinsville, 7th at Texas and a 9th at Talladega. His emergence was fully realized, however at the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motorspeedway. He won the pole and at times was the dominant car. He led 90 laps, second only to teammate Kasey Kahne's 158. He was leading entering the final pit stop, but a penalty on the stop coughed up his lead. He finished 13th, but it was the strongest sign yet that Riggs was capable of running at the front. The race also marked the first of 14 straight finishes on the lead lap. The span alson included another four top tens (Pocono, Loudon, Bristol, Richmond). After Richmond Riggs sat in 18th place in the standings, the high mark of the season. Unfortunately, the Chase caused his results to balloon. After avoiding problems and poor finishes most of the season, he had five finishes of 30th during the final ten races. He had great runs at Dover, Kansas and Texas spoiled by crashes. Despite the late struggles, he won his second pole of 2006 at the fall Charlotte race and capped the season with a seventh place finish at Homestead.

One of the wildest events of Riggs' season took place after the fall race at Texas. While running in the top five, Riggs lost control, got a slight bump from Kevin Harvick and crashed very hard into the outside wall. Not only did this ruin another possible top five, it also created controversy after the race. One of Riggs' crew members confronted Harvick and ultimately shoving Harvick. The crew member, Craig Curione, was suspended by NASCAR for the final two races of the season. Riggs had nothing to do with the incident, but it still gathered negative attention for the team.

The move to Evernham was a boon. Not only did he have better equipment than at MB/2, but he had something else valuable. His driving style was similar to Kahne's, meaning both teams could share information. Kahne won six races, all on speedways, in 2006 and not coincidentally Riggs also was very strong at the intermediate speedways. One factor that helped the transition was crew chief Rodney Childers moved with Riggs from MB/2.

In addition to his two poles, he also had seven top ten starts. His average start was 19.5. The other big improvement was his ability to stay on the track. He had 9 and 7 DNF's in his first two seasons. In 2006 he had a mere two. He had a total of 24 lead lap finishes, proving he wasn't simply turning laps.

Heading into 2007, Riggs has a real shot at winning a race. His intermediate cars have plenty of speed. Riggs just needs a little more consistency from himself and his crew to finish the job. He should be strong at Charlotte, Texas and Michigan. He also scored three top tens at the short tracks. This speaks to his maturity as a driver. He is crashing less, finding more speed and finishing races. It's a pretty simple formula, but not always easy to execute. Riggs should continue to work well with Kahne as well as newer teammate Elliott Sadler.

Although Evernham Motorsports has made great strides for Dodge, the cars still tend to be inconsistent. All three cars will run well one week and then struggle at a different track the next. It's important to improve the other aspects of the team like engine reliability, 1-mile and restrictor plates. Riggs proved he can drive when he has good equipment. The next is transforming lead lap finishes into top tens and top fives. If Riggs can consistently do that, he can win a race. Another top 20 finish is very possible, but with increased competition for every spot he isn't ready to threaten for the Chase.

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