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February 2016 – Saturday
Chase leans back against the car as he stands on the grid ahead of XFINITY qualifying.
It had been a busy weekend already, especially going back and forth between the Cup car and XFNITY car yesterday for practice. There didn’t seem like there was a moment for him to catch his breath in running both cars, while debriefing with both crew chiefs.
“Are you sure that you can handle doing this?” Alan had asked him amongst the running back and forth.
“I can do this,” Chase assured the crew chief. “I committed to Dale to running the car once he knew how close Elsa’s due date was, and the extra laps can’t hurt in building confidence. I’m okay.” The crew chef didn’t take too quickly to the answer, having a theory of his own based on what he had heard from Rick and others going into the weekend about Chase.
“Are you sure that you’re not using it as a distraction?” Chase’s eyes immediately cut to the crew chief, surprised by the comment as Alan crosses his arms. “You don’t want to sit and possibly think about what happened. You said when you made your comeback last year that racing in the car was your way to escape, get back to normal. It’d seem that you’re trying to put as much on your plate as possible for that reason.”
“You couldn’t further from the truth. What is it going to take to make you realize that I’m fine, and don’t need you looking over my toes on every decision? I can handle this weekend. I can handle what happened. It’s not even bothering me one bit. I get that you’re concerned, but it’d be nice if you give me some space, Alan, please.”
Since that discussion the previous day, the pair hadn’t spoken another word about Chase’s feelings, but rather focusing on the car and racing. Chase understood Alan’s worry and reasoning, but didn’t need everyone on his case. Alan understood Chase’s frustration in constantly being asked, but still felt the need to ask out of his own worry. A glimpse back at what happened and it created that immediate worry bubble.
Taking a deep breath, though, as he waited for his turn on qualifying, he realized that he may have been harder on Alan than initially intended with his comment yesterday. However, sometimes that’s what it took to get through.
A smile and a quick wave to a couple people, he glances down at the golden 88 that graced the side of the car. He was so used to running the No. 9 through his career that it felt odd to see himself running 24 in Cup, followed by 88 today in XFINITY. It wasn’t something that bothered him in the car – cars were same no matter the number – but it sometimes caught into his thoughts as he stood outside of the car.
Nothing felt natural about the current situation that he found himself in. This wasn’t his car; it was his boss’ car. He wasn’t supposed to be running this race; that’s why he had run the race the day before. He hadn’t made any laps in the car so how was he to know what to do come the first laps in the race?
Beyond that, Dale was missing – Marie had now gone missing just moments prior – and yet here they were, set to start the 500 mile race that day, acting as if nothing was wrong. It was supposed to be ‘business as usual’ and ‘try to get the win’. How could they do that while worrying about where Dale and Marie were?
His heart also thought back to Alyssa and how worried she was when he finally told her that he daddy was missing on Saturday. He couldn’t bare to understand the pain and confusion that certainly she was feeling. Adding in the race with Chase running her daddy’s car and having to stay with Megan, the situation felt worse with each second that passed.
“So, are you ready to go?” Chase snaps out of his thoughts as his father walks over to where he is standing. “Nervous?”
“It doesn’t feel right, dad,” Chase reveals as he looks out over the roof of the car at the crowd in the stands. There was no hiding his feelings from his dad as his dad could read him like a book. “I shouldn’t be driving his car. I shouldn’t be standing here right now on pit road where I am.”
“I know it doesn’t feel right, but it’s the situation that we’re dealt. We just have to deal with it the best that we can.”
“That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, dad. I’m not focused on today’s race or winning – I’m focused on wondering where he and Marie are, and whether they’re okay.”
“They’re both going to be fine; just focus on the race today. Everything is going to work out.” Bill then gives him a small pat on the back before walking away, knowing that Chase needed some alone time before the start of the race.
“It’s going to work out. Why wouldn’t it work out? It’s not like anything has gone to plan lately.” He then rolls his eyes as he tries to shift all the thoughts of his mind.
“Listen to me and listen smartly,” he hears as he almost gets into what he calls ‘race zone’, snapping his eyes open to see the new team engineer Randy standing directly beside him.
“Chase, it’s time for you to qualify,” Cory Shea, the car chief interrupts his thoughts as he gives his head a quick shake. “Man, are you okay?” Chase shakes his head yes as he takes a deep breath.
“I’m fine. I’m ready to go,” he tells the crew member as he reminds himself that this is a totally different situation than last year, Dale had asked him to drive it, everything was okay and nothing was going to happen.
“Okay…” Chase sensed the unease in the car chief’s answer as he reached down to adjust his pant leg a little before climbing into the car.
“I was just thinking about something, that’s all. I’m ready to go.” He then takes his helmet and puts it over his head.
Once buckled in completely, he runs his hands over the steering wheel, taking a couple calming breaths. It was time to focus and not think of anything else. He couldn’t ponder those thoughts. He couldn’t worry about anything else. He had focus solely on the task at hand in driving.
“Chasey win again!” Alyssa lets out as she runs into victory lane, wrapping her arms around his legs. He then looks down with a chuckle.
“I didn’t think you could block that run, but you did,” Dale states as he joins them. “That was incredible. Nice driving there. Great job.” Chase simply smiles in response as he picks up Alyssa into his arms.
“I just focused on keeping it straight and going for the line – knew there was nothing else I could do,” Chase tells him. “I was worried when he touched, but it worked out.”
“You proved today why you’re ready for tomorrow.”
“Can I hold trophy and take picture?” Alyssa questions, catching Chase’s attention.
“Of course you can,” he answers as he looks over her outfit. “I know why I won now. Someone had her lucky suit on.” Alyssa giggles, though confusion then forms on her face.
“Where Chasey blue suit?”
“I’m going to wear it tomorrow. Daddy and Anut Kelley said that I need to wear a white suit to go with the car.” Alyssa glances between her dad and Chase and shrugs her shoulders. It seemed like a good enough reason.
“I wear mine ‘orrow too!” Chase just smiles in response as Dale looks at her questionably.
“So you’re not going to match daddy?” He asks and Alyssa shakes her head no.
“Elsa wear daddy!” Alyssa states as Chase slowly puts her down. She then pulls at his hand, gravitating towards the stage where the team had gathered for photos.
“Looks like you’re outvoted, again,” Chase tells Dale, referencing Chase’s first Cup start and win at Charlotte, before heading off with her.