CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – If a list was made of the best NASCAR drivers who had yet to win a Nextel Cup race, Scott Riggs believes he’d be very near the top of it.

“We should be counting on one hand ‘This race we won, and this race we won,”‘ Riggs said. “But instead we are still trying to get that first one.”

Riggs will try for career victory No. 1 when he starts from the pole Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the 101st start of his career. But unlike all those other fruitless efforts, Riggs has good reason to believe he might finally find his way to Victory Lane.

He was terrific here in May, when he won the pole for the Nextel Open, then won that qualifying race to earn a spot in the All-Star field. He won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 a week later, and was in position to pull out the victory until a series of mistakes during a late pit stop sabotaged his effort.

Riggs was the leader when he pitted with 40 laps to go, but didn’t come to a clean stop, stalled his Dodge when he tried to pull away, and as his crew pushed him out the jack and fuel can left his assigned area – drawing a stop-and-go penalty that took him out of contention. He ended up 13th, after leading eight times for 90 laps.

“That was the one that we regretted the most,” Riggs said. “I thought we were on top of our game and hitting on all cylinders, and we just tried a little too hard on that last stop and it cost us. It’s the one that you look back on and you say “Man, we did the right things, that’s the way the car needs to feel, that’s the kind of mentality we need to carry to the race track.’

“So that’s the biggest finish we let get away from us this year.”

Kasey Kahne, his Evernham Motorsports teammate, went on to win the 600 in what was an all-around solid day for the entire organization.

There’s no reason to believe Saturday night won’t be a repeat.

Riggs is on the pole, Kahne will start second and new teammate Elliott Sadler goes off in fourth.

“All of the cars ran real good in May, so there’s no reason to think they won’t again on Saturday,” Ray Evernham said. “There’s not been too many tracks that are strong for the Dodges, and this is one of them. Plus the mile and a half stuff has been good to Kasey all year.”

It’s hard to place too many expectations on Riggs, who is in his third full Nextel Cup season but first with a brand new Evernham team. When the car owner decided to expand to a third car, he plucked Riggs from the midlevel MB2 Motorsports to pilot his newest entry.

But expansion comes with growing pains, and the team stumbled out of the gates by missing the season-opening Daytona 500. Currently 21st in the standings with seven top-10 finishes, Evernham believes Riggs has caught up to the preseason expectations.

“That team is right on target of all the schedules we set,” Evernham said. “We wanted to run in the top 15, sit on a pole and challenge for some wins, and he’s done all that. The goal is to get him to compete on the same level as (Kahne) and he can get there.

“You’ve got to remember, Scottie never had the equipment or team that allowed him to reach his potential or win Cup races. And even now, he’s still got a lot of potential that he’s got to reach. But he still doesn’t give himself enough credit or confidence.

“Once he believes he can win, he will.”

Riggs doesn’t disagree.

“I am personally trying to keep my confidence level where it needs to be, and my focus where it needs to be – I know we can do it,” he said. “If we don’t win one this year, it’s our fault for making those mistakes.”


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