NASCAR Media Conference
June 6, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR Nextel Cup teleconference in advance of Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway, the Pocono 500.
Joining us on today's call is Scott Riggs, driver of the No. 10 Valvoline/Stanley Tools Dodge. Scott has been coming on very strongly in recent weeks, highlighted by his victory in the Nextel Open. He also had the pole for that non-points event. That got him a berth in NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge. He went on to finish 10th. Scott also captured the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 and finished 13th. He comes in off a 20th place finish at Dover International Speedway this past Sunday.
Scott, tough early go in the season. Things have really turned around for your team in the last few weeks. Maybe you could give us some of the reasons for that.
SCOTT RIGGS: Well, things have definitely started to come around. But this is the kind of way we anticipated the season to go. Definitely didn't expect to of course miss the first race. We always had in our mind with a brand-new team starting a season off with no points there's always the chance of something like that happening. If you make mistakes or break or anything that happens in those qualifying races at Daytona, you take a chance of missing the race, nothing to fall back on points-wise. Unfortunately, that happened to us.
You know, actually it was a good thing in some weird way because it actually made all of our team and all of our guys focus on not just ourselves as a structure, but also just take one race at a time and concentrate just one rate at a time, not worry about points or last week or two weeks from now. We just worry about one race at a time.
You know, we've been doing a pretty good job. Everyone's doing a good job in the shop building the cars, everyone on the road, over the wall, have been making huge strides on their abilities and how fast they can make changes on the race car.
Myself and my team director, Rodney, my head engineer, team engineer, Kevin 6 kid. All of us have been really working together, really fine tuning and honing our skills of communication between each other and understanding exactly what I'm describing about the race car, what kind of changes, making a correlation between what changes I feel and what kind of changes we make.
You know, I knew this is what our team was capable of, is being competitive. We're still making mistakes. We're still not finishing where we need to. We thought we had the fastest car at Charlotte in the 600, put ourself in the right position to win that race, and just took ourself out. Had a good car at places like Phoenix, I spun out. All the mistakes we're making as a team, including myself as a driver, and the guys over the wall and everything, we're all making mistakes because we're trying too hard. I think you don't want to make those mistakes.
I think those mistakes are going to be done away with as soon as we can get ourselves into Victory Lane. I think as soon as we win a race, that will bring everyone's confidence where it needs to be and we won't be trying to overcome and overachieve. We'll be able to just feel confident in what our abilities are as a team and individuals, give a hundred percent and make calculated decisions to be able to continue to win races and continue to be competitive week after week, I hope.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll now go to questions from the media.
Q. The biggest change that you've seen in the early part of the season, switching over to Evernham Racing?
SCOTT RIGGS: The biggest change I've seen is just having so many people behind the scenes, so many engineers, so many different specialty teams that are really working, research and development with Pete there working hard to work on our cars, go out and test things we don't as a team have time to go work on. Just so many people behind the scenes that are trying to make our cars go faster.
I have a huge engineering team, a lot of engineers that are put on specific and special problem solving, different problems, different tests that we want to find out answers and results from. A lot of guys. I don't want to say their names not because I don't want to give them the definite credit they deserve, it's 'cause I don't want to lose them, I don't want them stolen, I don't want their name to get out there and some other team come over and try to steal them away.
The organization as a whole has done a great job of, one, putting the key people in those key places to make the entire organization function together and work well together. And for everyone on the team being able to look at each other as a true teammate, not a competitor. It's so easy in this day and age, the competitive nature of all of us, the competition level being so high at this level, it's easy for us to start racing our own teammates and want to outrun each other.
Right now Evernham Motorsports, everyone is working to try to help each other. We're just as proud for the 9 team winning three races this year, Kasey, Kenny Francis doing such a good job over there, as we are about Jeremy and the way that team is really starting to come around and turn the corner. Everyone works together as one. I think that, along with the right people in the right places, that's the biggest difference between the last two years in Cup racing and this year.
Q. With what happened in Charlotte at the Open, Coca-Cola 600, this past weekend at Dover, do you feel as though Pocono could be the track where you guys break out?
SCOTT RIGGS: To be honest with you, every weekend right now, that's what I was saying earlier, every weekend right now we go to the racetrack focused on what we need to make sure our car does through the corners, what we need to concentrate on, what kind of typical problems come about and arise at these racetracks in the past and try to stay focused on making sure that we have the best race car we can.
Pocono, I look forward to Pocono. Some of the things we learned between the Open and the 600, some things that we tested at Kentucky, are actually going to apply for us at Pocono. Dover this past weekend, I feel like we did a good job executing all the changes we made, but we really didn't have the kind of car we needed when we unloaded. We really were behind at first. We worked hard, never got scrambled, just stayed focused on working on our car. We had a 20th place finish, but definitely not what we expected. We thought we'd have an easy top 10 finish there. We thought we had a good shot at a top 10, a track that I like, a track that our team director, Rodney, put a lot of thought into. He likes it, thought it would be something that suited our styles. Didn't have the kind of finish we needed, that we thought we could obtain.
Pocono, I've been pretty good there in the past. It's a place that I think is tough to learn because it's so unique. But I think we have a legitimate shot at running well and getting our first victory possibly this weekend.
The only places that I look to that I actually go to the racetrack before I even unload, think about, okay, we need to just have this kind of finish, are really the road courses. That's the only place I feel like I have such little experience at that I think we just need to go there and survive and get out the best we can. It's like if we can have a top 15 finish at those races, we'll be in good shape. Everywhere else, we look to go to try to sit on the pole and lead laps and win races.
Q. Do you believe the driver learning curve ever has an end point?
SCOTT RIGGS: I don't think you ever quit learning as a driver. I think as long as they keep changing the rules for the cars, as long as Goodyear keeps bringing different tires, like they did this past weekend at Dover, as long as you have different tires, keep changing the circumstances under which we race, I don't see how a driver could ever say, I know everything, I figured it out, I'm ready to go for the rest of my career.
I think you always need to continue to learn. I think any driver that ever gets closed minded into thinking, This is the way it worked last year, I think this is the way we have to keep doing it, I think they'll be left behind and shuffle to the back.
Q. Do you think champions have common traits and skills? If so, can you identify a few of those?
SCOTT RIGGS: I think the thing that all champions that win the championships, that win races, I think the biggest thing is the mental side. I think keeping your confidence where it needs to be, keeping your team's attitude, being a leader for the team like you need to, those are things all the champions seem to do and do well. I think it's easy to get down about last weekend or get confused about some changes you might have made and sort of get you off track. I think the people that keep their minds simplest and just focus on nothing but the race car, the way you need to drive the race car. Believe it or not, you can go from one race to the next and actually have to drive your race car a lot different, not because the car's different or the setup's that much different, but if the tire or the track conditions are that much different, I think those are things that are the hardest things to read. The way the tire compounds and the tire constructions change from week to week, I think keeping up with what those tires are going to feel like, no matter if you have a good race car or bad race car, being able to define and keep the difference between what the tire feels like and what your car feels like, those are the hard things to do and stay confident about.
Q. What sort of challenge is it for a new team to bring along a pit crew? How is that process going for you?
SCOTT RIGGS: It's definitely hard. I'll tell you that for sure. That was one of the tougher challenges that we had as a new team, was to try to find new talent and then guys that maybe haven't had any experience but maybe we saw something in them that could get it done over the wall or things like that.
The guys that do the pit stops, the guys over the wall, they're athletes. They're guys that have to be physically in shape and physically capable of doing the job and doing it fast, smart, quick and making sure that they do their job correctly.
The hard part of that is finding those guys that also can handle the different circumstances in which we pit. You have guys that can do a great job in practice, but then can't handle the pressure. I'm really proud of my guys because they not only do great pit stops when they're practicing at the shop, but they're also able to come in and give me the same pit stop no matter if we're 25th or if we're leading. That is what is hard. I think that's the challenging part, is to find those guys.
We've had to make a couple of changes since the beginning of the season, but they've been very small. I think the guys have done a great job of continuing to get better and better every week, feeling the pressure at different levels, been able to continue to do their job the same no matter what the circumstances may be. That's a hard thing to do. That's the hardest.
Also you have to find the guys that work in the shop, work on the race cars, go on the road, keep their focus on the race car. When you're away from their family as long as these guys are every week, make sure a strong family life and home life means a lot into how they can focus at their job at hand every weekend.
Q. The situation with Tony Stewart this past weekend at Dover, how concerned are you as a competitor when you know there's somebody out there not a hundred percent or does that not bother you once the race starts?
SCOTT RIGGS: You mean, do I worry about somebody like Tony being behind the wheel?
Q. Yes. Being injured, maybe not being up to his driving ability.
SCOTT RIGGS: Well, I think if anyone could handle being behind the wheel and not being a hundred percent physically, I think Tony Stewart could because he's such a smart race car driver, such a talented race car driver when he is a hundred percent. Knowing how smart Tony is behind the wheel, I don't think he would do anything to put himself in position to change the outcome of someone else's race because of the situation that he's in. I think he's a lot smarter guy than that, a lot more respectable on the racetrack than that.
A lot of people have problems with Tony or other drivers out there, say they're not respectable. I have the utmost respect for Tony Stewart on the racetrack and off. I think he's a smart enough driver that I don't think anyone should worry about that.
I worry more about the guys that are overdriving their race car, trying too hard trying to make up for their race car not being what it needs to be. Those are guys that will probably make mistakes long before someone like Tony who is trying to race his own race would make a mistake.
Q. Do you think NASCAR should institute a situation where you could have a replacement rather than relief driver?
SCOTT RIGGS: You know, I don't know. That's a hard decision there. You're racing for points. Something like that, an injury like Tony has with his scapula being broken, Dover would be, man, one of the toughest places to go with an injury like that because you have so much banking, so much grip with the concrete surface, you carry so much speed in these high-banked corners, there's a lot of forces pushing down and against your body through the corners. I think you would definitely need someone to step in.
Now, if you're asking me do I think NASCAR should change the rules where Ricky Rudd could have started the race and Tony got the points? I think the team definitely deserves the points. They're the ones that put the car out there, did all the effort. But I think if the driver can battle through getting in the car, starting the event, then having to get pulled out of the car, make that change, which takes a really high risk of getting laps down to do it, I don't see any other way it could be any different.
Q. What impact has the success your team had over the two weeks at Charlotte had on the confidence of the team?
SCOTT RIGGS: It's been a huge confidence booster for us. That's what I spoke about earlier. We need that kind of boost just to get our guys and myself not to try too hard. It's really easy to try just a little bit too hard in certain areas. That pushes you to make mistakes. Having that confidence really keeps the guys focused. That confidence really I'm not going to say slows you down, but if you're giving 110%, it slows you down to where you need to be, giving that solid hundred percent, smart, not getting rattled, not letting the pressure get to you because that confidence is there to sort of ward that off.
Q. What do you attribute to the recent resurgence that Evernham has been enjoying?
SCOTT RIGGS: I just think it's been months of research and development, months of hard work on everyone's part trying to get themselves and their teams stronger and more competitive. I just think that things are finally starting to come to a head, we're finally starting to use a lot of the resources and ideas and things we've been working on for months now. He would finally starting to fine tune those and start to be a little more consistent.
Q. Could you talk about some of the things you do from a physical fitness standpoint to stay in shape so you don't get too worn down in the car?
SCOTT RIGGS: There's definitely a physical demand on your body during the course of the race and a mental also. The biggest thing I do, I just try to work out. I try to exercise, you know, all my basic muscle groups. I try to have some kind of cardio involved as far as running, just making sure that I get that heart rate going. I try to do it all in the heat that we're in right now, 80, 90 degree weather. I try to work out in that kind of conditions.
In the race car, the temperatures are a lot higher than 90 degrees. They're up to 120 to 160 degrees air temperatures in the car. It's almost like being in an oven. I think working along with my trainer that I have that works with me when I'm home, making sure I have a good diet, making sure that I have a healthy diet, and also to make sure that I'm physically in shape. Also we work with making sure that I can endure the kind of heat that we go through for those four or so hours we're in the race car. The biggest way to do that, if you do work out and train in the heat, you actually teach your body how to sweat more efficiently. What I mean by that is you actually can still sweat, but your body won't sweat out as many electrolytes as, say, someone who is not sweating and trying to train your body to do so.
Just try to endure that I think helps you by far physically. I think the stronger you are physically in the race car, the race, when it starts to take wear and tear on your body, the stronger you are mentally to be able to stay focused on your job at hand.
Q. How does Pocono rank among the tracks as far as physically demanding? I've heard some drivers say it's more of a mentally demanding track.
SCOTT RIGGS: I would just say it's par as far as saying it's more average ranked as far as physically demanding. As far as the mental part, that's pretty tough because you're running such a high speed at these long straightaways, then we're in these slack corners, you really have to be sharp on your sense of depth perception the entire race and know if you have someone around you, the air's going to affect you even more because we're running at such high speeds. If we come in and get tires, how much deeper you can drive into these corners, how much more speed you can carry, how much earlier you can pick the throttle up depending on your car's condition and tire wear.
I think it's more higher on the mental side with the high speeds, slack corners that we run. Par on the physical side.
Q. There's a lot of traveling back and forthwith the guys running the Cup and Busch. Are they going to burn themselves out for the Cup effort on Sunday? How do you see that?
SCOTT RIGGS: I see the biggest advantage is you get to be in the race car more. You get a chance to feel more changes. Therefore, you get to learn more about your cars, about your tires. I think that shows up even more so when the Busch cars and the Cup cars are at the same event that weekend. I think that's where it's the most beneficial to a driver and a team because you get a chance to feel two totally different race cars under you. That enables you to put a common thread with what the feel of the tire is and the track conditions are that week, not necessarily the one race car. You get to drive two different race cars. You get a common thread there of what is separated, okay, this is tire/track conditions, and this is car conditions. This is things we can change and can effect.
The only advantage I see of running two different tracks on the same weekend with two different cars is you just get a chance to be in the car more, you get a chance to learn a little more that weekend than, say, someone who is only running one of the races is able to learn.
But it can get stressful. It can get physically demanding, too, when you're traveling back and forth driving those cars. There is a price to pay for that.
Q. Looking back from when you broke in, where have you seen your biggest improvements in the car as a driver?
SCOTT RIGGS: Well, the biggest improvements I feel is I feel I've learned a lot about what my race cars need to feel like at these different racetracks. I've learned a lot about the tire. The tire change came when I moved to the Cup level. To go from I call them harder construction tires, not really harder on the surface, but just the side walls and the feel of the tire was a lot different in 2003 than it was in 2004, 5 and 6. I feel I've learned a lot about my cars, the different tracks. I feel no worries about trying to get back into the swing of a new track. I feel when I go to Pocono this weekend, we unload, I have a good feel of what the car needs to feel like. You learn all the little humps and bumps and holes, trouble spots, spots that you can find a little grip on the racetrack. I feel I've got a pretty good handle on all the different tracks that we run now and feel good about if we had to, go right out there, first lap on the racetrack could be a qualifying lap.
I think learning my race car, that's been a huge step as far as what I need to feel or what kind of changes, how that feels in the seat, if we make a change in the race car. And as far as communication, knowing better now how to better direct my team to work on my race car. If it's something that is one corner of the car that I feel is giving trouble or losing grip, I feel I have a little bit better feel and understanding of hopefully to be able to direct the team to what areas in the car need to be worked on, which inadvertently speeds up your race car, makes you able to focus in and work on the parts you need to, hopefully get your car up to speed quicker.
Q. Obviously you're far enough in points where there's no concern about getting in the show. With what happened at Daytona, is there still conscious thought about that? Is that something we talk about more every week? Do you look at it still?
SCOTT RIGGS: No, to be honest with you, we don't. I think that's something you guys talk about. We definitely put it behind us, try to stay focused one week at a time. We go to this weekend, we're not thinking about, Man, we need to qualify good because we don't want to have a poor qualifying effort or have a bad race. We think about, This is what we need to do, this is where we need to qualify, this is what our car needs to feel like to be able to win this race. That's the kind of thoughts that go through our minds these days.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, Scott, for helping us out on this week's call. Thank you to all the media for participating in advance of this week's Pocono 500.
SCOTT RIGGS: Appreciate it. Thanks to everyone for coming out.
HERB BRANHAM: Best of luck to you, Buddy. Keep the momentum going.
SCOTT RIGGS: Thank you, sir. I'll try.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|