Often in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup racing, a driver catches our attention, not necessarily because of his penchant for winning, but for his potential to win.
We know he has all the talent and when his skills are meshed with a powerful team that is a proven winner; heck, it’s only a matter of time before he takes a checkered flag.
We await the moment, confident it will come. Alas, sometimes it comes later than sooner. And sometimes we can’t help but think, “Hey, is this guy going to win anytime soon? Were we wrong about him?”
In so many cases we found out we weren’t wrong at all. The driver realized his potential and, as has happened so often over the years, one victory leads to another, then another, then another …..
A good example of this came in the early 1980s when Harry Gant advanced to what was then known as the Winston Cup Series.
Gant, from Taylorsville, N.C., had been a stalwart in NASCAR’s Late Model Sportsman circuit, the predecessor to today’s XFINITY Series. He was a winner. He was popular. He could have spent his entire career on the tour and gone into NASCAR lore as one of the best.
But he decided to pursue an opportunity. In 1980 he joined Jack Beebe’s fledgling team. Mot observers agree Gant had the ability to win in Winston Cup competition but they weren’t sure if it would happen with Beebe’s team.
They were certain in 1981. Gant ran so well that the prevailing opinion said he would win and that it was only a matter of time.
But as the season progressed the thinking was, yes, he would win – but isn’t taking a bit more time than originally thought?
It seemed that Gant came within striking distance week after week only to fall just short.
He scored several top 10s and top fives but the real kicker was that he finished in second place seven times.
Folks took notice. So did the media. One wag even wrote, “Harry Gant went to a barber shop that had only one seat, which was empty. The barber pointed at him and said, ‘You’re second.’ ”
Gant did not win in ’81. With Hal Needham’s team he didn’t win during the opening stages of 1982 either. But he emerged triumphant at Martinsville in the spring. He was 42, an age when many drivers contemplate retirement.
From that point on no one wondered if Gant, now known as “The Skoal Bandit,” would win again. He won 17 times before he retired at age 54.
Now, Chase Elliott is only 21 years old. He’s in his second full season with Hendrick Motorsports.
From the time he entered Monster Series competition he was pegged a certain winner. He had already displayed his talent and his racing genes were irrefutable – he’s the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott.
Like it was for Gant, when it comes to Elliott most of us have reasoned that the situation is not can he win, but when will he win?
He hasn’t won yet. But like Gant he has come excruciatingly close.
He already has nine top five finishes this year and four of them are runnerup. Almost incredibly, he has finished second in three of the last four races.
He’s not knocking on the door of victory; he’s pounding on it. But it hasn’t been opened – yet.
It will. I believe most of us think it is going to happen much sooner than later, perhaps before the 2017 season is over.
“From where we were in those middle stages of the race at Charlotte, I was proud of the way we fought back and were able to get back to the front,” said Elliott, who finished second and is virtually certain to make the round of eight in the playoffs. “It’s frustrating to run like this. We’re definitely tired of running second.
“But, if we keep running like we are, hopefully the opportunities will be there.”
Ultimately they were there for Gant.
They will also be there for Elliott.
As has been said before, it’s just a matter of time.
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