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Q&A with NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Scott Riggs

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Scott Riggs has landed a ride with the RAB Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series team. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Lee Montgomery

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Scott Riggs still has something prove in his stock-car career. And he believes RAB Racing is a pretty good place to do it.

Riggs, out of a Sprint Cup ride in early 2009, hooked up with the Robby Benton-owned team for 2010, and the results have been impressive so far. Last year, RAB struggled with rookie John Wes Townley, wrecking 23 race cars over a difficult season.

But Riggs has finished 15th, 16th and 14th in the first three Nationwide races of 2010, ranking 10th in the series points standings.

The Bahama, N.C., native talked with this week about his season, about his past and about his future.

Q: Have you been pleasantly surprised with the way you guys have run, considering all that went on with them last year and you being out of the car for a little while? Have you surprised yourself at all?
A: No, not really. With the parts and pieces and engine program that we have, we have even shown our potential yet. We’ve made grave mistakes so far in the first three races that have really prevented us from being a true contender for a top-five finish. We’ve learned a lot. They had a pretty big learning curve from what kind of feedback they were getting last year to probably what feedback and the way I drive and my style this year. Everybody’s happy and satisfied and feel fortunate that we haven’t torn any race cars up and have been pretty careful and able to finish races and come away with decent points days, just from where they were last year.
But I wasn’t there last year. I don’t really use last year as a judging tool off of what we’re doing this year. I think we still have a lot to go. We learned a lot at California. We know what we did at Daytona because we had to make sure we had a car fast enough to qualify in. It just wasn’t very good in the draft, and I couldn’t get around any other cars. It was pretty ugly around other cars.

We went to California, and we learned a lot. We had a wholesale change, setup-wise, from what we ran at California to what we were going to do at Vegas. Vegas, we unloaded pretty good, started making some fine-tune adjustments to try to help the car, and once we got in the race, realized that was our next step that we need in overall setup, where we need to be better. I think we made huge gains, and I’m happy with it and I’m happy with what we’re doing and I’m happy with the people and everyone’s personality and attitude.

But from my standpoint, if we can’t be in the top 10 in the Nationwide race, then I’m not satisfied with it at all. Not trying to be negative and still trying to be very positive about the team and the way we’re working together and things we’re learning. We’re listening to each other and learning from each other. But at the same time, I have pretty high expectations of what we can achieve.

Q: And you wouldn’t have those expectations if you didn’t truly believe that they’re a team that could do that.
A: Absolutely. If I looked at the cars, and the cars were all over the board and didn’t have a good baseline or a good idea of where our geometry needed to be on the cars and didn’t have a good idea of what kind of horsepower we had to stack up to everyone else, then I would be in question and not know what to expect. But all the cars are the same. We’ve got a pretty good handle on where we are on our setups and our baselines. We still have a little work to do on the body side to make our aero package a little bit better. And I think our engine program is as good as any Ford can be.

I can definitely whine and cry about how the Fords are a little bit down from the Chevrolets and the Toyotas, but I’ll leave that crying and whining to all the Roush guys that are racing. Those are long-time Ford guys. They can cry those blues. Until we’re the fastest Ford every week, we’re not going to cry like we need to about the Chevrolets and Toyotas.

Q: How did you get hooked up with Robby and those guys?
A: A mutual; friend of myself and Ben Gable, who’s acting crew chief. Ben talked to a mutual friend of ours, and he asked about me and threw my name in the hat. Ben just picked up the phone and gave me a call and gave me a call and asked me to come in and meet with Robby and everyone, and I did. I’d gone to a lot of shops and a lot of different teams. Unfortunately, the only open spots right now are teams that are sort of in dire straits. When I go to this team and this shop, wrecking 23 race cars last year, I’m thinking I’m going to see a graveyard of cars. And I go in there, and there’s 11 cars complete, ready to go. Most are in primer, some are in paint, ready to go. That was impressive.

And then to hear the way Ben and the engineer there and the whole team functioned and talked to each other and the way they communicated, they were not a team that was down and out. They were definitely a team that was focused, strong and working like we had a gazillion dollars and we were going forward trying to win the race. They were on the pull-down machine and talking about wind-tunnel time. They weren’t a team that was on the verge of shutting down. You would’ve never thought that.

That’s what inspired me. I’ve been to a lot of different teams that when I left there, I was always sick to my stomach feeling like, "Man, this is hard. These guys don’t have what they need or are even in the right mindset to be going forward. They’re looking like they’re on the verge of teeter-tottering on crashing and burning or pulling out." These are the first people that I saw where the train was still marching hard forward.

That has a lot to do with not only the way Robby Benton and his dad have worked the team, but also the other owner, Brack Maggard, who has a lot of stability and carries a lot of weight with the team. He does some racing himself, and I think he’s very positive and keeps everything afloat to keep going forward.

Q: The original plan was a couple races. What is it now? Are they going to run as long as they can?

A: We’re going to run as long as we can, for sure. We feel that if we continue to improve and are able to run well – right now, we’re running good enough not to get some recognition. Guys like you are calling wanting to talk to us. But at the same time, we definitely need a sponsor. Even though are finishes are pretty much the same for three weeks in a row, we’ve been getting better every week. If we can continue to get better and continue to improve our finishing positions and make headway in the points and show everyone that we have a product, there are some sponsors out there that haven’t made decisions and haven’t come forward and are sort of watching the way everything’s going the first part of the year that are going to dip their toe in the water. We’ll have a product we can sell and hopefully sustain us the rest of the year.

Q: Looking back over the last year, how did you spend your time most of 2009? Did you try to look for stuff, or did you take a step back?
A: I sort of took a step back. Every day, I had time thinking about what the response was going to be and which way my career was going and what I could do to put something together to get back in the car. Of course, you spend a lot of time if there’s ever going to be another opportunity to get in the car. Unfortunately, I know nothing else besides racing. I actually went back into my dad’s body shop, and my dad and I were working on cars again – beating out fenders, changing fenders, beating out doors and quarterpanels and painting cars – just to keep my sanity, just to keep me doing something. Time with the family has been great. That part of it I can’t take away. I’m closer to my two kids now than I ever was before, and I didn’t realize how many things and how much time and distance I was away from them.

But it’s time to get back to work, it’s time to go back and do something. Racing’s the only thing I knew. I really wanted to get back into a car. I didn’t know where or how, but I just kept talking and answering every phone call and trying to go meet everyone, no matter who it was. Of all the different places I went, this was the place that excited me the most. I don’t know if that excitement was able to show enough that Robby saw it, that he saw we were a good fit and could work together and have a lot to prove together.

Going back to a Nationwide car was something that in some ways I felt was definitely backing up, from, where I had been years before. But at the same time, I haven’t driven a Nationwide car in so long – with that restrictor plate. Going to Vegas and never backing all the way of the gas lap after lap after lap, that was insane. There were some things that were challenging to that, and it was a fun challenge, things that you look forward to and you want to do.

I feel like we’ve been right behind the lead pack, where we need to be. I can see them; I just couldn’t get there. I feel like we’re making steps in the right direction to get closer and closer every single week. It’s something I’m enjoying a lot more. I have a lot better perspective about the team and about racing in general than I ever have before. I’m a lot more calm, and I’m happier with what’s going on.

Q: Do you feel like you have something to prove as a driver in NASCAR? Or does that kind of thinking not enter your mind?
A: Oh, no. When I would think before, I can’t believe I’m not going to be in a car again, I can’t believe I’m going to get a ride anywhere, it hurts because I have so much to prove, so much to give. I don’t feel like I’ve ever been in THE situation that I need to be in to be able to show what my potential is. I‘ve never been with a team (like that), and when I was with a team that could do that, six months down the road, all of a sudden, I’m out, and they’re closing up the shop and changing the name on top of the door. We all look back and think, "What if we’d have taken this fork in the road? What if went this way instead of that way?" I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time. I look back and think, "Man, I wish I could’ve done this or done that different, and maybe it would’ve put me in a different position or been in this ride or that car or had a better opportunity with a better team."

But all in all, I feel that I’ve done as good as anyone possibly could with the situation, equipment and team that I’ve been with. I definitely feel the need to prove myself still, to prove that what I’m capable of. I’ve got too much fire and too much passion to be sitting on the sidelines. That’s what kept coming to mind when I was sitting out.