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Gonna come clean – I had a little help in writing this little section but love it. One of my loyal helpers in going over chapters and ideas before posting wrote it as he has some first-hand experience. With that said, my helper would like to remain anonymous but thanks to him.
Standing in the trailer, Chase looks at a reflection of himself in the mirror and simply smiles. He was in total disbelief that this was happening. It seemed just like yesterday, he was sitting with Rick Hendrick and Kelley Earnhardt, putting together the plan to run his first year in the XFINITY Series.
Now, two years later, he was standing here as a series champion and set for his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.
“Are you okay?” He hears as a pair of arms wrap around his shoulders and he simply shakes his head yes.
“Just taking it all in,” he answers before glancing over his shoulder and kissing her lips.
“Are you feeling okay?” He could only let out a sigh upon hearing the question.
It seemed that everybody had their worries about how he was doing, and reasonably so with the rib injury that there was still there. He came into the weekend thinking that it’d be no problem at all to handle.
During practice yesterday, though, he realized that it’d be a little tougher than he thought with the amount of pain that seemed to radiate through his side. However, it wasn’t enough pain to cause him to change plan as he knew that he could handle what he had been dealt.
Just earlier before Sarina had entered, he had been in the trailer with Hendrick Motorsports’ pit crew coach and injury expert Greg Morin preparing for the day ahead.
Through consultation with his doctors and Greg, it was decided that making sure to take two Tylenol twice a day every six hours on any day that he’d be in the car would be a good way to control his pain. Beyond that, despite not being the recommended course of action, his ribs would be wrapped to protect should be by chance make contact with a wall.
“I know they advise against wrapping now-a-days as it restricts breathing and increases other possible reprecautions, but we need to do this for safety reasons,” Greg had told him when discussing the original plan. “You have them wrapped while in your firesuit and in the car, but will immediately unwrap following the last on-track activity and go through the breathing exercises as discussed in the hospital. Furthermore, I want you to do those exercises regularly, every three to four hours, to make sure everything stays in order.”
Chase had no option to accept what the pit crew coach had told him, allowing Greg to wrap him both yesterday morning and today. They had also added extra padding to the seat, just for insurance purposes as well.
“I’m fine,” he assures Sarina before giving himself one more look over.
Satisfied with how he looked, he took her hand with his and headed out of the trailer, making his way to pit road for qualifying – with his security officer in toe. The format for the day was simple – two laps, followed by two more laps if they made it to the top-12. Given Alan’s belief in how quick the car was, he was most certainly going to be part of the top-12.
After signing a shrew of autographs on the way, he reaches pit road and makes his way down to his car, relaxing against it. It was now a game of waiting as he wouldn’t be heading on to the track till the later second half of the session due to the quick time that he had set in practice.
“Time for you to climb in,” he hears after about an hour from Alan, and shakes his head accepting. He turns and faces Sarina, leaning in for one final kiss.
“Have fun – or as much fun as you can have making a single lap,” she tells him as he smiles. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He then gives a hug to each of his parents, followed by a quick fist-pump to Alan before turning to face his No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.
Taking a deep breath, he turns and lifts his right leg into the car first, before taking another deep breath. That was the easy leg of the pair as his left side was able to stay straight with ease.
Now was the more painful experience in lifting his left leg up and putting it through the window. Slightly biting his tongue in the process, he felt his side trying to bend in the process, though restricted by the wrapping job that Greg had done that morning. Legs through the window, arms resting on the roof, he takes a couple deep breaths to get his wits back with him. It was all about going through the motions, and making sure to remember the breathing exercises for the easiest road possible. He could only count the seconds till he was comfortable and snuggled up in the seat behind the wheel.
He could feel eyes staring at him from all directions, as well as hearing the clicks from the various cameras that surrounded him. It seemed that all eyes were on him, and that didn’t surprise him. Everybody expected him to be the next biggest thing, based on his credentials coming up to this point in his career, driving for Hendrick Motorsports and being the son of Bill Elliott. Though outside of that, everybody wondered if he’d have the same success that Jeff Gordon had with the famous No. 24 through the years.
These were expectations and pressures that didn’t matter to him, though. When it came to Chase, there was only one thing that mattered – his own expectations. He had a certain bar that he set for himself, based on his own thoughts and the team’s thoughts around him. If he could match those, than that was all that mattered. He knew that he had the team surrounding him; now it was just about doing what he needed to do behind the wheel to be the most successful.
Satisfied that he had gotten the pain back under control, he takes a careful, full deep breath before slipping through the window and down into the seat. It was one fluid motion, but not a motion that brought ease with it as the pain that he felt earlier in lifting leg felt like it had doubled by that motion. They stated that you weren’t supposed to twist your body with the injury, and he could easily see why with the amount of pain that coursed through him.
Snapping the steering wheel on and resting his hands on it, he closes his eyes and goes through taking a couple more deep breath to once again find his comfortable spot. He gave it 30 seconds to a minute, the pain would subside and he could go forth with the rest of this with ease and not a single worry.
“Are you okay?” Alan asks as he kneels down by the window, worried about his young driver. It certainly didn’t make him comfortable seeing the position that Chase was in this weekend.
“I’m fine,” he answers before reaching to pull his shoulder belts on, followed by his lap belt. Locking the six-point harness in the middle, he focuses his eyes forward.
He couldn’t think about the pain any longer. He couldn’t think about how he was feeling. In just a mere couple of minutes, he would be going 200 mph around a 2.5-mile speedway. There was no time to focus on anything else. He had to focus purely on the task at hand, or else they wouldn’t end up where Alan believed they belonged.
Eyes locked on the NASCAR official at the end of pit road, he watches the official give him his signal to go. One hand on the shifter, one hand on the steering wheel, he puts right foot down on the gas pedal, allowing the car to leave pit road with the thrust of power.
He focuses his eyes on the RPM gauge, remembering the number that the engineers had stated would be the optimum number to shift at to get the most speed out of the car in the short amount of time given. He watches the number climb, shifting as the needle reaches the number, and repeating the process all the way up to fourth gear.
Bringing the car to the top of the track around the banking in turn two, he places both hands on the steering wheel, remembering the advice from others – smooth motions on the steering wheel to not scrub off field, right down as low as you can on your lap to optimize distance.
With his focus purely on driving and doing what he needed to do, there was no time to think about the force against his side. As he brought the car through the 31 degree banking in the corner, his body was forced back into the seat, and down to the left side. His wrapped ribs pushed against the extra padding that had been placed, stuck like glue, no ability to move, feeling the 5-gs in full motion. It brought forth a bit of pain that could be only described as minor and annoying in the moment, as his focus wasn’t on how he was feeling – but the job at hand.
Crossing the finish line to complete his lap, he immediately shuts the car down and relaxes. With the adrenaline and concentration out the window, the pain began to enter that he had felt during practice the day before. If you looked at a range from 1 to 10, this pain could be described right in the middle of the scale – a 5. He could only imagine the amount of pain that he’d feel after running the Can-Am Duels on Thursday, or the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
Returning to pit road, there were smiles all the way around as he had done what he needed to, clocking in within the top-five of the chart, obviously locked to move on to the second round of the session. He had to kick himself in the butt a little, though, as he knew that he had messed up on the shifts a little. He hadn’t gotten off pit road as smoothly as he wanted, spinning the tires a little, and missed the first shift by a couple 100 RPM. He was a rookie – he was bound to make mistakes, but not mistakes this small.
Sitting in the car on pit road following the lap, he knew that he had to do better the next time. He couldn’t mess up two times in a row, and he couldn’t cost the team a shot at the pole by a simple mistake. They had worked all winter to get this car right for today.
It was all on his shoulders now.
Climbing from the car after making his final run of the day, a big smile was plastered on his face. He gave Alan a quick high-five, before pulling Sarina close and kissing her lips.
He had done it. He had won the pole for the Daytona 500.
“Great job everybody,” he says as he gives a high-five to each of the crew members on the team. “Now let’s keep the car in one piece this week and have a good weekend.”