As Chase had predicted, the rest of the night went smoothly without incident. He was able to sleep that night, getting all the sleep that he could muster. As he woke up and went about his normal morning routine, he couldn’t help but smile.
It was officially the beginning of his Sprint Cup Series career.
He went forth the rest of the morning with ease, attending the pre-qualifying meeting with the team to discuss last minute adjustments and such. They didn’t know if they had anything for the pole given how they had practiced, so as long as they got a pair of solid laps and started somewhat near the front for the Duel they’d be off to a solid start.
“Remember – no pressure,” Alan comments as he pats Chase’s shoulder. “If we have to rely on the worse case scenario, we have the owner’s points from last season that will get us in the field. Just focus on doing the best job that you can, okay?” Chase shakes his head yes with a smile. “That’s good. Did you sleep alrig-”
“What did I tell you last night?” Chase cuts him off as Alan lets out a sigh.
“Okay, you told me to lay off as you’d be fine. I believe you – I honestly do. I just can’t help but worry at times. When Jarred told me, it caught me off-guard. I’m sorry.” Chase was about to go the defensive route in telling him that he didn’t want to hear another word out of frustration, but took a deep breath. He could see where the crew chief was coming from.
“It’s okay. I understand. I would just rather avoid talking about it, if you understand. They say that post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, for sort is something that you never totally get out of your system. I can never erase what happened, what I felt in those moments, the fear I carried, and the fact that sometimes I still look over my shoulder, or don’t trust a stranger as much as I should. They say you never get over it, but rather you find a way to deal with it so you can live your life. My way of dealing with it? I have the strategies for the nightmares, I try to focus away from it and talk about it with those close to me if I need to.” Alan shakes his head, understanding.
“So in other words, you’ll come to me if you need to, but would rather just pretend as if nothing happened?” Chase shakes his head yes. “I can work with you on that. My mouth is shut.”
“Good, because I thought you had a job to do.”
It didn’t take long till the group was on pit road hanging out, waiting for their on the 2.5-mile oval. They watched as the first car pulled off pit road – Denny Hamlin – set for his pair of laps. Chase had drawn 20, so it’d be awhile till he would get his chance to make his pair of laps.
He could feel the eyes of the reporters and photographers on him, repeatedly noticing the multiple photos that they were taken. It was to be expected. He was replacing Jeff Gordon. He was the rookie that everybody had their eyes on with his last name and success up through the ranks. Everybody also had their concerns considering what they had heard from the winter. As long as they maintained a level of respect and didn’t push the boundaries, it’d be fine in his mind.
It was finally time for him to take his pair of laps as he grabbed his helmet, placing it on his head with one of the crew guys helping to get the HANs attached correctly. He smiled and thanked each of the crew guys for their good luck wishes in the process, while sharing a hug with both the boss and his parents.
“Remember what I said,” Alan says as he watches Chase climb in the car before walking off pit road.
“Is everything going smoothly?” Alan hears and glances over to his left to see the boss standing there. He simply shakes his head yes, without another word. He had found a level of trust with Chase and wasn’t going to burst the bubble. The incident that took place would be kept between the pair, and the boss would only be informed on a need-to-know basis.
“He’s handling it in his way, and doing a good job. I have an eye on him, though.” Rick shakes his head accepting.
Alan kept his eyes focused on the No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet for both laps with intrigue, glancing at the stopwatch every couple of seconds. With both laps in the books, he stood pleased with the performance. It wouldn’t be enough to win the pole, but it was a lot better than they had practiced. They would be in a solid position come Thursday.
When the whole session was complete, the pair couldn’t complain as he had qualified sixth, set to start to third in the second of the Duels. Alan felt confident in where they were starting and the drafting ability of the car, to along with the ability to watch the first race and see how it unfolded first.
“Unbelievable,” Alan comments as he looks over the final rundown. It seemed that the Hendrick Motorsports cars had speed, having swept the front row.
Elliott Sadler, who was filling for Dale, had managed to put the No. 88 Chevrolet on the pole, with Jimmie Johnson second. Looking at how that shook down, both cars were locked in the field and Jimmie would be starting on pole for the second Duel, right ahead of Chase. Satisfaction was the key of the day.
Of course, it was meant with a bit of disappointment in knowing that the No. 88 being on the pole really didn’t mean much since Elliott wouldn’t be running the Daytona 500. Hopefully, Elsa would be born in the next three days so Dale could run the Duel himself and get the car a decent qualifying spot, starting from the rear of the Duel with a driver change. If not, they knew that’d mean Dale would start at the back of the 500. At least they knew that they were locked in without any issue right now.
Shortly after qualifying completed, Dale called Greg to make sure that the team was not too bummed in not being able to keep the pole position with the current situation. Greg quickly assured him that it was not a problem, given that the team backed his reason for not being there. It wasn’t about where you started, anyway, but where you finished.
“I told you that the car had lots of speed,” Dale says while on the phone with Greg. “There was a reason why I wanted to bring Amelia with us this weekend.” Greg laughs as he remembered the debate in the shop as to whether to bring a new car, or bring the car that they ran at the plate tracks through last season.
“I have no doubt in your ability,” Greg offers. “Now we know Amelia can get the job done, hurry up and have that baby, and get your ass down here.” Dale laughs as he looks over at Marie.
“I’ll be sure to pass that message along with Marie, who has already walked around the house five times today to try and make Elsa come now.”
Marie could only sit there now, rubbing her stomach, wondering if she should’ve let Dale go down and run the two laps himself versus sitting there with her and their patient daughter.
“Come on Elsa…,” she encourages quietly to herself. “Please co-operate and come meet us.”