AVONDALE, Ariz. Scott Riggs is too old to be one of NASCAR's ''Young Guns.''
That doesn't faze the 32-year-old driver, who will move from the Busch Series to Winston Cup in 2004.
''I'm just happy to be getting my chance,'' Riggs said. ''I've paid a lot of dues and taken the time to learn the right way to do things. Now, hopefully, it's going to pay off.''
Riggs, who has never raced in NASCAR's top stock-car series, is replacing veteran Johnny Benson, who will finish the Cup season while Riggs chases a Busch championship.
Going into Saturday's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Riggs is second in the Busch standings, trailing former series champion David Green by just 13 points with three races remaining.
The Busch championship chase is the closest in its history, with five drivers separated by only 49 points at the top of the standings.
One of the contenders is 20-year-old Brian Vickers, fifth in the Busch points and also moving up to the Cup series, where he will battle Riggs for Rookie of the Year.
Vickers will drive for the elite Hendrick Motorsports team and will be the youngest full-time driver in series history. He is just the latest of a spate of drivers who got the opportunity to race for top Winston Cup teams while still in their early or mid-20s.
The list of the so-called Young Guns is long and impressive, including Cup stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and Elliott Sadler.
Greg Pollex, co-owner of ppc Racing, which fields the Fords that Riggs drives in the Busch Series, said he expects the driver to do just fine against the competition in the Cup series, young and old.
''Scott's had to work for what he's got, where some of these other people, they just show a little bit of talent and, boom, they get picked up by some big team and they're rushed right along,'' Pollex said. ''Scott had to earn his way.
''I think his maturity is going to help him a lot. But, coupled with that is his knowledge of the race car. He used to work on his own race cars and trucks. I think that's where he's going to have a little bit of an edge over the younger drivers.''
Riggs finished fifth in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series in 2001 before moving up to Busch, where he won two races, finished 10th in the points and was the top rookie in the series last year.
Leaving the Busch Series with a championship was his main focus in 2003 until the last month, when Winston Cup teams began calling.
His age was a factor as he decided which team to choose.
''If I was 19 and took the wrong avenue, there's plenty of time to recover,'' Riggs said. ''I feel like at my age I need to really make sure I'm somewhere that's going to be ... solid and that's going to be competitive right out of the box.
''It wouldn't be a very easy task for me to fail and try to come back through the ranks again.''
Riggs chose MB2 Motorsports, which has had only limited success since its inception in 1997.
Benson joined the team midway through the 2000 season and gave them their only victory, last season at New Hampshire. But he has struggled in 2003, standing 27th in the points with only one top-five and three top-10 finishes heading into Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at PIR.
So, what attracted Riggs to that team?
''I just felt like they were the ones that were the most dedicated to changing their program, improving it and taking it to the next level,'' Riggs said.
Now, after all the phone calls and thinking and worrying about next season and beyond, Riggs just wants to concentrate on finishing this season on the right note.
''I'm glad the decision part is over and I can focus on nothing but trying to win the championship,'' Riggs said.
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