Early Misfortune “Just The Beginning of the Story” for Riggs, Cappello

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

Front Row Motorsports has taken NASCAR by storm to start the 2024 season at the sport’s top level with strong performances in back-to-back weeks from Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland.

As for their developmental program in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series, the fluorescent rookie stripes on the bumper of the mustard-yellow No. 38 Ford F-150 driven by Layne Riggs appear to stand out a little more than expected going into Las Vegas.

After getting caught up in a pair of eerily similar accidents at the drafting tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, Riggs and rookie crew chief Dylan Cappello find themselves in an unfavorable position heading into the first 1.5-mile track on the circuit.

Riggs, a second-generation racer, enters his first full-time national series bid with an esteemed late model background and the title of 2022 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Champion on his resume at 21 years old.

Before securing his ride with FRM, Riggs made nine starts between the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Truck Series, where he scored three top-10s for three different teams, including a third-place finish at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park for Spire Motorsports.

Misleading results to start the season aside, Riggs has the talent capable of bringing Front Row to the promised lands once again at the Truck level.

“I already feel comfortable and like I’ve been doing it my whole life, which is great,” Riggs told Kickin’ the Tires. “The guys here at Front Row have really taken me in, taught me a lot already and made me feel at home. It’s been a really easy adjustment to do it and I’m just glad that I get to do it every weekend versus once every three or four months.”

Tallying consistent results as a rookie is tough enough in itself. But when you consider the fact Cappello is also making his debut as a crew chief, the task at hand may be that much more challenging.

However, that’s not to say Cappello isn’t more than equipped to lead the No. 38 team.

Cappello has been with Front Row in the Truck Series since he began his NASCAR career in 2020 as an engineer. By virtue of commendable work ethic from his peers and an abundance of knowledge, he quickly worked his way up to lead engineer, and now crew chief.

During his tenure as an engineer, Cappello helped guide the No. 38 team to seven wins and their first championship in 2022 with Zane Smith, so he knows what’s possible for Riggs.

In transitioning to crew chief, Cappello has had to field input from the team and offer more guidance in the shop as a leader. 

Where the real challenge comes into play is that he’s essentially dealing with a brand-new team, excluding spotter Josh Williams – almost an identical situation McDowell had to deal with last year in Cup.

“It’s definitely different, but I feel like I’m doing a lot of the same stuff in the shop,” Cappello told Kickin’ the Tires. “The good part is, we’ve got enough people here in the shop that know what made our trucks go fast, and I know what made our trucks go fast. 

“It’s just kind of keeping those details embedded in the trucks and keeping that mindset moving forward, so we can still have fast race trucks that we give Layne to compete with each week.”

To say Riggs and Cappello have been battle-tested to start their rookie seasons would be an understatement. Following tribulations at Daytona and Atlanta, they limped away with two-straight 33rd-place outings.

But through the roughage, there’s always a silver lining, as the tough times often incite the best moments for learning and growth.

For Riggs, these opening two races have taught him the importance of mental toughness throughout a long, 23-race season.

“It’s just understanding to keep your emotions in check and know you’ve got next weekend to go do it again,” Riggs said. “I feel like I’ve had to be mentally tougher now than I’ve ever been. I’m just ready to flip the switch and get in victory lane for the first time.

“There’s going to be a lot of doubters. It’s easy for a fan sitting on their recliner to point fingers and say, ‘Oh, he finished dead last, right where I expected him to.’ That’s not how our season is going to go. I want to prove all of them wrong. That’s why I’m here.” 

As for Cappello, it’s been trial by fire.

At Daytona, the No. 38 team failed to make it beyond 13 laps before their night came to an end. Instead of packing up, Cappello took the initiative to listen to other team scanners throughout the race to see how other crew chiefs would handle different situations.

Although Riggs got involved in an accident on Lap 50 at Atlanta, he was able to finish the race. Unlike Daytona, he and Cappello got a better feel for their work rapport inside the truck after going the distance.

After getting a firsthand look at Riggs’ work ethic and initiative in the shop, Cappello was very pleased with how these translated to his ability to relay information from the driver’s seat.

“He’s really good with his feedback,” Cappello said. “At the end of the first stage at Atlanta, he did a really good job dissecting the truck and giving me the information that I needed to try and get him a better handling truck so he could make even more moves.

“It’s not going to be me trying to have to pull information from him. He’s super hands-on in the shop. He wants to learn about these trucks and how they’re put together, the reasons why we’re doing the things that we do and what makes these trucks fast, which I think is awesome to have. 

“He’s got that engineering mindset. He’s kind of thinking of all the things, you know, what he feels on track and what could be causing that. I think that’s a good thing to have.”

Moving on to Las Vegas, Front Row Motorsports and Cappello have seen their fair share of success in Sin City. In his first season with the team, the Arizona-born crew chief helped guide Gilliland to a top-10 at the 1.5-mile track, as well as Smith to a runner-up finish last year. 

Cappello also knows a thing or two about winning in Vegas. In fact, he went to victory lane as a driver in the ARCA Menards West Series across the way at The Bullring last fall.

“In the past three years, we’ve had pretty good luck out there in Vegas,” Cappello said. “I haven’t won any money at the casino, but had good success on track. I feel like we have a good baseline going back there, and then it’s just going to be building off that with Layne.

“I think we got trucks that are capable of running up front. I’m excited to see where we kind of stack up with the field as our first kind of true test of the year to see progress that we’ve made.”

Riggs, who called Daytona and Atlanta “mulligan races,” is ecstatic he’ll be going to a track where his fate is in his hands. He, too, has seen his share of success at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

In one Xfinity Series start made for Kaulig Racing, he scored a 10th-place finish.

“We’re going to Vegas like this is our first race again,” Riggs said. “Not with what we’ve learned, but first race mentality, confidence and mindset. That’s where we need to be, and that’s where we’re going to go.”

Going into the Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 on March 1, the No. 38 team sits 39th in the standings, courtesy of two, 33rd-place finishes – one of which was a disqualification from Atlanta due to windshield fastener penalty. 

Whereas most 21-year-old rookies would let early adversities get to them, Riggs prides himself on being a positive reinforcer for the team. 

As someone who’s only made limited starts across NASCAR’s developmental series, he’s determined to make the most of his first full-time season, and hopes to bring out the best in his team.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s a good driver for the team as far as driving us to be better,” Cappelo said. “You can tell the enthusiasm in him at the shop. People have come up to me like, ‘He’s gonna do a really good job for us.’ They can just tell when he’s in the shop, the energy that he brings. You can tell that he wants to do good for us. That makes us want to work harder.”

“This is just the beginning of the story,” Riggs said. “I wouldn’t really call it a comeback story yet. But, this is just the beginning. I know that the rest of the season isn’t gonna end this way. It’s gonna be a really good story to talk about where we’re at now and where we end up at.”

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