|Riggs was fifth Saturday at Martinsville|
"I've been doing start and parks for the last year and a half," said Riggs, "so it will be a blast to go out and run a full race."
Riggs did more than just race, bringing the No. 92 BTS Tire and Wheel Distributors/fleetHQ.com Chevrolet Silverado home fifth, in his first-ever start for the team. It was the RBR's first Top-5 showing since the 2011 NextEra 250 at Daytona International Speedway, and proved that Riggs can still compete in the upper echelon of the sport.
The Bahama, NC, native has not had a full-time, competitive ride since 2008, when he ran the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in Gene Haas’ State Water Heaters-sponsored Chevrolet. The team struggled, with only one Top-10 finish; a seventh at Talladega in October. The following year, he drove Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36 Sprint Cup Chevy, but made only eight starts all season after failing to qualify four times in the first seven weeks.
Eventually, Riggs was forced to become a “start and park” racer, running just a handful of laps for various underfinanced teams before pulling the car to the garage. After contending for championships in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, the “start and park” label was difficult for him to accept.
“I just can’t do it,” said Riggs at the time. “I’m a racer, and if I can’t give a 100% effort, I would rather not be out there at all.”
Riggs was as good as his word for a time, walking away from the sport and making no NASCAR National Series starts in 2009. He transition into “the real world” in an attempt to pay the bills and support his young family, and while the money was good, Riggs missed the smell of exhaust and burning rubber, not to mention the competition and camaraderie of the NASCAR garage.
“I had it set in my mind that I was never going back,” he recalls. “I never thought I’d get another chance. But after sitting out for a year, I saw that things had changed. `Start and park’ was becoming more of an accepted approach for small teams to try and survive. And personally, I discovered that the only thing worse than `start and park’ was not being a part of the sport at all.
“I did a lot of pride swallowing,” he admitted. “When R3 Motorsports called and asked if I would do a few (start and park) Nationwide races for them, I accepted the offer. We did that a few times, then went to Darlington and finished 13th. I’ll admit it felt good to be back in the car, even if we only ran a few laps most weeks.”
When R3 Motorsports decided to take its operation to the headline NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, Riggs said he expected the worst.
“I was prepared to be miserable,” he said. “I thought we’d miss 75% of the races until they got tired of it, ran out of money and pulled the plug. But we’ve actually done quite a bit better than that.”
In fact, R3 has qualified 19 times in 26 Sprint Cup attempts this season. Prior to this week, Riggs had also made 13 Nationwide starts for Rick Ware Racing and four Camping World Truck appearances for team owners Mike Alger, Mike Harmon and Richie Wauters. Virtually all were `start and park’ appearances, a practice Riggs has come to accept, if not enjoy. Saturday offered him a rare opportunity to run a complete NASCAR race, albeit with an RBR team that is badly underfunded in comparison to its competition.
“We know we’re down on resources,” he said. “We were seriously short on horsepower and the truck was way too heavy. We didn’t have half the lead weight in our truck that the top guys did. I just wanted to take care of my equipment, stay out of trouble and see what the day would bring. I thought if we could finish in the Top-12, it’d be like a win.”
Riggs started the race in the 23rd position, and quickly began moving through the field once the green flag flew. After cracking the Top-15, Riggs’ RBR crew did its part, ripping off a sizzling, yellow-flag pit stop that pushed him into the Top-10 on Lap 152. From there, the veteran driver deftly worked his way into the Top-5, and into contention for a win.
"With age comes wisdom,” said Riggs. "It was getting rough out there, and guys were beating and banging on each other. I took my spots when I could, while still keeping the truck clean. I decided to walk down the hill, instead of running.”
Riggs was fifth at the drop of the checkered flag, his best NASCAR finish since 2001, when he contended for the Truck Series championship with Jim Smith’s Ultra Motorsports.
“I did a lot of smiling Saturday,” admitted Riggs. “It was fun to get back to real racing again. That finish put a lot of life back into me, for sure.
“I don’t feel any different as a driver than I ever did,” he said. “I drove the same race Saturday that I ever would have, and honestly, I am more confident in my abilities today than I have ever been in my career.
“Put a driver in something that is down on horsepower -- heavy, with no engineering support, no testing and no data to fall back on – and you’ll find out what he’s made of. You’ve got to be damned good to qualify for a Sprint Cup race under those conditions, and we’ve qualified a lot this year.
“Don’t misunderstand,” cautioned Riggs. “`Start and park’ still sucks, and it always will. It’s totally against a driver’s makeup. It’s hard to do. On Friday, you’re ecstatic to qualify 35th fastest; high-fiving your guys and celebrating because you made the show. Then on Sunday, you’re ashamed that you can’t go out there and actually race.
“It’s hard, but it has made me stronger, better, and more appreciative of what I had before.”
RBR Enterprises has no more NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events on its 2012 Truck Series schedule, and Benton said the team’s 2013 slate depends on sponsorship.
Riggs’ effort Saturday can only help.