Given the phenomenal success of some recent NASCAR Nextel Cup Rookies ofthe Year, Scott Riggs knew his rookie season would be tough. And itturned out that way, with fellow rookies Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, andScott Wimmer providing stiff competition in Rookie of the Yearcompetition.

Through the season's first 26 races--NASCAR's "regular season"--Riggstrailed those three, as Kahne, with nine Top 5s, led the way. Vickerswas Second with three Top 10s; and Wimmer, with a single Top 5 and apair of Top 10s, was Third. The best runs for Fourth Place Riggs,meanwhile, were a Fifth at Dover in June and a Seventh at California onLabor Day weekend.

Riggs was aware from the start that former rookies Jamie McMurray,Jimmie Johnson, and Ryan Newman would be tough acts to follow, butthat's as far as he'll go about it.

There are notable differences between Riggs and drivers like McMurray,Johnson, and Newman. Riggs, who will turn 34 on New Year's Day, was a33-year-old rookie; McMurray turned 27 in the middle of his Rookie ofthe Year campaign in 2003; Johnson was 26 and Newman 24 when they burstupon the scene in 2002. Johnson first got on a motocross bike when hewas four, and Newman started racing Quarter Midgets at the same age.Riggs began motocross racing at 13.

"I didn't get my racing opportunities the way a lot of guys have," Riggssaid early during his rookie season. "I've been racing for enough yearsto know that a lot of things in this sport come down to breaks, andfortunately for me, I was able to get the break I needed to move intothe Truck Series and then into the Busch Series. Once I got there, Ifeel like I did what I needed to do to generate the opportunity I havenow."

All talk aside about the top rookies from years gone by, Riggs has madethe most of his opportunities. From the motocross bikes, he stepped intoa four-cylinder Modified at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, NorthCarolina, not far from his hometown of Bahama (pronounced ba-HAY-ma). "Iraced those for two years before stepping up to a full-size Late Model,"Riggs recalled. "It was quite a drastic jump coming from motorcycles tocars, and it was equally a big jump going from Modifieds to LateModels."

As for big jumps, the jump from the Busch Series to the Nextel Cup wasnot that much of one, according to Riggs. When he stepped into the No.10 Valvoline machine at Daytona for Speedweeks 2004, it was business asusual from a competition standpoint.

"It was actually a positive difference for me," Riggs said of racing inthe sport's Super Bowl as his first Nextel Cup event. "I actually feltmore at ease in the Cup race than I did in the Busch races, because Ifelt like guys raced you harder on the track, but they [Cup drivers]knew how to race without crossing the line and being overly aggressiveand putting themselves and you in trouble. They'd race you hard on thetrack where they could, and they knew where they needed to be carefuland be easy on the track. To me it was a good experience.

"I didn't get a lot of drafting help in practice, but I tried to workwith all the guys every time I got on the track and show that I wasn'tgoing to do anything too drastic and too outrageous. I felt that in therace, I got a lot more help and it seemed like more people were willingto work with me. We didn't have the kind of outcome we wanted to have,but we learned a lot and hopefully earned some respect."