Commentary

Stewart's move to Haas likely makes Riggs odd man out -- again

How will Tony Stewart's arrival at Haas CNC Racing impact Scott Riggs in 2009? The underrated Riggs could be out of a job -- again, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: July 23, 2008, 3:01 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Wafting Smoke choked out D2D last week quicker than Tito Ortiz on Screech, and much to their chagrin, The Six never made air. Some guy named "Big Bird" even cussed at me in a backhanded compliment sort of way -- a "Good job on Stewart! Now get off your [rear end]!" sort of way.

Hammer down. The Six don't show up to run second.

Scott Riggs
AP Photo/Jae C. HongScott Riggs on his future at Stewart-Haas Racing: "It's so frustrating the way my hand's played out. I don't know which way to go."

Marty,

We're HUGE Smoke fans -- great job on the Stewart Haas story and the interview of Tony on ESPN. We don't see him open up that much very often. But make ESPN get you a new picture on TV. You look so mad, like somebody called your mother a bad name.

On to my question. … Everyone is saying Ryan Newman will drive the second car for Tony. What's going to happen to Scott Riggs? He's from near us in North Carolina and seems like a nice guy and we don't want to see him out of a job. Is he going to have a job next year?

-- Marissa Collins, Mebane, N.C.

I don't want to see Riggs out of a job, either, Marissa. I'm a big believer in Scott Riggs. His ability is underrated. He's labeled as a 25th- to 30th-place driver, based largely on marginal (at best) success in the Cup Series. I believe he is more talented than that.

A driver is only as good as his team, and right now Haas isn't a good team. When Riggs was at Evernham, they were awful.

If Tony Stewart got in the 66 tomorrow he couldn't win. Not a chance.

Stewart has a truckload of personnel decisions to make over the next seven months, because this sport is all about people. The Haas equipment is great -- Riggs drives the same parts and pieces that Jimmie Johnson does. The difference? The people wrenching on them.

Riggs' future is unknown. Utterly so. I spoke with him Monday and he doesn't think he'll be back at Stewart Haas. So, then, what is cooking on the burner?

"Nothing," he said. "Not one thing. I know I have 17 races left to try to do the best job I can with the people I have with me right now. I have spoken with Tony. There is a small possibility I could be at Haas next year, but that's still uncertain.

"I'm ready to find a place that not only can I get my feet in the foundation, but be there long enough see it built to completion and be successful. I'm more confident in my ability as driver and leader on and off track than I've ever been. But it'll take the people and the resources to prove that.

"It can't be a one-year deal. All I ask for is a shot."

Riggs has bounced around a lot during his career. He started with MB2 and went to Evernham when sponsor Valvoline switched teams. He then became a victim of an ownership change, as George Gillett bought EMS from Ray Evernham and told Riggs he wanted Canadian Patrick Carpentier in the No. 10. That's business.

Off Riggs went to Haas, with high hopes that a union with Bootie Barker would prove fruitful. It's been a struggle.

Now Riggs stands on the precipice of unemployment. There aren't many opportunities available for a guy who hasn't won and is perceived as a journeyman. "Frustrating" doesn't even begin to describe it.

"There's not many rides, at all," Riggs said. "In my opinion, I can only make lateral moves. If you make a lateral move you pray the elevator's going up, not down.

"It worries me, but at the same time I have the same mindset I always had: I give 110 percent as a driver -- and in this day and age it's not just driving. It's your leadership to the team. Your attitude. As long as I give 110 percent, and no one can do a better job in all those areas, if something doesn't come forward or I don't get a chance to prove it, I won't have any regrets.

"But with all that said, it completely [stinks]. It's so frustrating the way my hand's played out. I don't know which way to go."

Not that he'd hand it all back.

"I can't go back and change the decisions I made," he said. "I wish I could. I wish I could rewind and do some things different. But we all do. That's life. But I'm still so hungry. Every weekend I still want to go out there and stomp some ass."

I hope he gets that chance.

Stat of the week, courtesy of "NASCAR Now" stat man Chris Lees: Ryan Newman's pending departure from Penske Racing at the end of the 2008 season raises a question: Who was the last Daytona 500 winner to join a new team the season after his 500 win?

The answer is Buddy Baker.

Baker won the Daytona 500 in 1980 for Harry Rainer. He then left that team at season's end and joined Hoss Ellington on a part-time basis in 1981. Hoss Ellington is a great name.

Marty,

Referring to Tony Stewart -- why do most drivers like to drive for their own teams? MWR. SHR. Junior wanted more into DEI last year, etc. I always thought it was better business sense to race for someone else and have the race team on the side like Dale Sr. did. That way you have income instead of just expense.

They announced that Stewart will become the highest-paid driver, but if you own half the company, what you are paid is half yours already, right? Couldn't Stewart have stayed with a winning team and still bought into a different race team?

I do understand the conflict of interest with Chevy and Toyota, but if all he was doing was driving the car, couldn't you, as a race team owner, limit the knowledge you give your driver about how you get the cars faster? I never pictured drivers much as "corporate spies leaking vital secrets."

If that were the case, MWR would have made BDR stronger. Help me out here.

-- Brandon Averette, Lincolnton, N.C.

The math is rather simple, Brandon: Stewart didn't pay 1 cent for half-ownership in a Sprint Cup Series organization. He was handed 50 percent equity. Imagine that. "Hey man! I have a $70 million business. You want half?"

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That's what makes his deal so different than any other driver-owner arrangement in the past. Guys like Darrell Waltrip and Brett Bodine and Ricky Rudd were all-in. Bodine went bankrupt in 2003 after his team ran out of money. If Stewart Haas fails -- which it won't -- Stewart is out nothing. That's not a bad place to be.

Think about this, too: Gene Haas and Joe Custer have run Haas/CNC largely out of Haas' pocket. Injecting Stewart into the equation means new revenue streams from corporate sponsorship. It's win-win for all parties.

Random porch sippin' observation: Sitting on the back porch with a handful of cold beer and earful of George Strait Sunday evening, a buddy of mine made an intriguing observation. Jack Roush must look at the two hottest young stars in stock car racing and get nauseous. He had Kyle Busch once. And when Mark Martin founded the Joey Logano fan club back in 2002, Martin was still driving for Roush -- so common sense says Roush likely had first dibs on Sliced Bread.

Not that he's doing badly by any stretch of the imagination, but what if Roush had locked those two down to long-term deals? Scary.

Marty,

Just read [Max] Siegel's comments that DEI isn't for sale. He made sure to say "right now." Does that mean it will be soon? And someone wrote where he's going to buy it! Is that true? What's going on with DEI, Marty? And is it good for the sport that all these people from outside the sport are coming in?

-- Shelley Cameron, Knoxville, Tenn.

You're absolutely right, Shelley. Siegel did make certain to say "right now" -- and with good reason. He's not dumb. A sale or partnership could easily happen in the future. Anything can happen, especially in the current volatile climate.

Ask most team owners, and they'll tell you the business model of NASCAR team ownership is not conducive to fiscal windfall. It makes little, if any, financial sense. There's an old racing adage that says it well: If you want to make a small fortune in racing, start with a big one.

It's awfully difficult to secure sponsorship right now, and little new money is coming into the sport. So if a guy can infuse his team with 10 figures of someone else's cash, he'd be plumb nuts not to. Quite frankly, Boston Ventures probably saved Petty Enterprises.

Like you, Shelley, many folks question whether it's good for the sport that "non-racers" are becoming so prominent, and not just in the team setting. That sentiment seems to apply across the board. A best-case scenario for team owners and employees is for an investment partner to open up the wallet and get out of the way. Let the racers worry about the racing. Penny-pinching doesn't work in racing. Corner-cutting won't win races.

Count former Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler among those who don't welcome the non-racers.

"We need racers running the sport," he said in May. "In some cases, that's not happening, and it's creating some problems. I've sat in some meetings where we're trying to decide things and I look in there and hear comments and I know some of these people know absolutely nothing about racing."

As to your question about Siegel, would he be a good team owner? I think so. He's a smart and driven man. And he has credibility. The moment Dale Earnhardt Jr. endorsed him and his business philosophies, he was set. He wants to be a team owner. He's tried before.

In 2004, he was prepared to partner with NFL Hall of Famers Reggie White and Ronnie Lott, as well as former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartalo Jr., in purchasing MB2 Motorsports, which at the time fielded the Nos. 01 and 10 Chevrolets.

The deal was all but done, save for the official closing, slated for Jan. 15, 2005. But when White died on Dec. 26, 2004, the deal died with him.

Siegel never lost that hunger. He saw value in NASCAR long before he came to DEI. I foresee Siegel owning a team in the near future.

Marty,

I was just wondering if the drivers have "people" to advise them how to dress and behave during meetings with the media, and if so, why haven't Kyle Busch's people told him that his sunglasses are way too big for his face?

You could watch an IMAX movie on those suckers! There is no denying that kid has talent behind the wheel, but he is certainly lacking for talent in style.

Oh, and one more thing. Is it the new car that had everything so spread out during the first half of the Coke Zero 400? The restrictor plates didn't seem to have 'em running in one giant pack until the latter stages.

I understand adjustments bunched 'em up there at the end, but with plates in the past, they seemed to run that way from the start too. I don't recall, in recent memory, when there were four and five second leads from first to last during these plate races. Just wondering.

-- Aggie, Wichita, Kan.

Yes, drivers have "people." And yes, you could serve the Old 96er on Busch's shades. But he gets paid to wear those things, and he happens to like them. His "people" aren't much into changing who he is, so don't expect to see him go smaller anytime soon.

As for the strung-out field -- no, it's not necessarily the new car. It was, though, about handling. When the race started, the track temperature was high and it was difficult for drivers to run all out. As the race progressed, grip increased and more cars were capable of running wide open in a big pack. Daytona's surface is similar to the old Darlington -- abrasive -- so tire wear and track position play a substantial role in the competition.

In every plate race, too, there are drivers who choose to hang back for the first couple of hours to make sure they stay out of the mess. As you saw at the end last weekend, when it was time to go it was plenty bunched up. They were bunched up tighter than Carl Edwards' T-shirt.

Marty,

Huge Mark Martin fan! I couldn't believe it when I found out he was coming back full time again. We are so excited. Since he's with a team as good as Hendrick's, does he have a legitimate shot at winning a championship?

-- Ricky Ware, Tullahoma, Tenn.

On paper, no question, Ricky. But paper won't take wedge out or make air pressure adjustments or bomb it into Turn 3 at Darlington at 200 mph.

Martin will be paired with Alan Gustafson -- a smart, hungry crew chief. And judging by Martin's performance in the No. 8 car the past two seasons on a part-time basis, he still has the goods to get it done.

Martin looks at that No.5 car and sees a run at a championship. That's the point here.

It stumps me why some folks are giving Martin flak for coming back full time. If he still has the fire and his family backs him -- and Rick Hendrick, of all people, wants him in the seat -- why not come back? It's not like he's going to even a mediocre team. He's coming back with the standard-setting organization in the sport, with the most money and most resources out there.

Marty,

Do you know why NASCAR stopped running the extended version (2.52 mile) at Sonoma? The best memory I have there is Earnhardt's pass on Mark Martin on the two-to-go lap, as they went under the footbridge in the sweeping Turn 6. (At least ESPN Classic still shows that race on occasion.)

-- Rob McKeever, Manassas Va.

According to Infineon president Steve Page, the decision to add The Chute -- the connector between Turns 4 and 7 -- and remove The Carousel was made in an effort to create a better fan experience. The idea was that that alteration would create more passing opportunities, provide shorter laps and more chances for fans to see the cars during the race. Page noted, though, that Infineon officials realize the current version of the track isn't popular with all of the drivers, but feel that it has accomplished what they'd hoped it would.

Hey Marty:

Can you tell me the order of the pit assignments? After the pole-sitter, who picks next? Thanks and enjoy the column.

-- Kevin, Oak Forest, Ill.

The pole-sitter gets first dibs on whichever pit stall he chooses, then second-fastest qualifier, third fastest, etc. It goes right down the line, Kevin.

Marty,

Has a driver ever won championships in three different car makes?

-- Brian Harmon, Willis, Va.

Yes, sir -- but not in a long time. Bill Rexford, the 1950 Grand National champion, drove an Oldsmobile, a Mercury and a Ford to his title. Buck Baker won in 1956 with Dodge, Chrysler and Ford. And in winning the 1963 championship, Joe Weatherly drove five makes: Pontiac, Plymouth, Chrysler, Dodge and Mercury.

Great question, Brian. Thinking about you, buddy.

That's my time for this week. Tried hard to make up for last week's ineptitude. I'm off to watch Brad Paisley preach the truth -- I'm still a guy …

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.