Riggs making up ground in a hurry
Scott Riggs was in the very throes of disappointment, having come crashing down from the high hopes the start of a new season tends to bring after failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 -- but even then the third-year racer knew the score.
Even then he realized it was a freak mechanical failure and poor fortunes that kept him out of the Great American Race, not a lack of effort or skill on the part of his No. 10 Evernham Motorsports Dodge team.
"There's nothing negative I can say about anybody on this Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge team," he said that day. "Everybody put in a great effort."
Nearly 12 weeks later, it's clear that Riggs' persistent positivity toward his team was well founded. Riggs has lept from 40th in the standings following his season debut at California Speedway to 24th. In the last seven races, Riggs has jumped 12 spots in the standings, finishing among the top 15 six times in that span.
It's these past seven races -- a span that has the No. 10 team nursing distant hopes Riggs may become the first driver to make the Chase after missing an event -- that helps Riggs believe his team has made good on the optimism he was doling out in the preseason.
Still, if Riggs is, indeed, to make the playoffs, top-15s alone won't cut it. It's going to take a run of top-10s and, really, top-fives.
To that end, Riggs said, he feels good about the progress of his team: "We are still a new team and going through some growing pains. I made a mistake at Phoenix and the car got away from me, which cost us a good finish. We have the occasional hiccup in the pits or miscue during practice, but overall I am very proud of this team and the progress they have made."
As well he should be. Aside from Phoenix, where he came home 38th, and this past weekend at Richmond, where he battled back after spinning out to finish 14th, Riggs has posted nothing but top-10s since the start of April.
"I feel like we have taken a top-10 car to the track every race this year," said Rodney Childers, who serves as the team director for the No. 10 team. "While that won't always materialize, we have some great people working over here at Evernham and they are communicating well. That is behind some of our good runs lately. It's because of the communication this team director [system] gives us."
The "team director" to which Childers refers is team owner Ray Evernham's new approach to running a Nextel Cup team.
None of Evernham's three cars -- the No. 9 of Kasey Kahne, Riggs' 10 car and the No. 19 of Jeremy Mayfield -- have a crew chief, whose job is typically as chief strategist and decision-maker for a single team. Instead, Evernham's directors make decisions and consult with their counterparts on the other teams to employ strategies across the three stables.
It was an interesting move by the man recently voted by the media as the top crew chief in NASCAR history. But for Kasey Kahne and Riggs, it seems to be working.
"We have had several good races recently and started to live up to the potential of this team," Childers said. "Our pit crew has really turned things around and started to give us some great stops. Our cars are to the point now where we can go to the track and run top-five, top-10 week in and week out.
"We just have to keep our focus on getting those top finishes. If we keep building our cars and hitting our marks at the track the way we have been doing, then we are going to achieve our goals."
Rupen Fofaria is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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