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For the record, that XFINITY race was awesome to watch and that was a spectacular move pulled by Chase Elliott to keep the lead ahead of Joey Logano, and pick up the win.
There’s also one other thing for certain – NASCAR has certainly started the season on a high with a pair of great finishes.
The weekend seemed to be repeating itself over and over in the mind of the 20-year-old.
It was a like routine of events, one after the other, with repetition written over it. That wasn’t a problem with him, though, as this was a repetition of events that he wanted to get in the flow with. This was the best repetition of events. It meant that he was getting tons of lap in the car, which was certainly his happy place.
Just as the days before, he was once again standing in the hauler, making sure that the firesuit was fitted right to his body. Rather than in wearing the familiar NAPA blue colors, he found himself dressed in the Tax Slayer maroon and white as he got set for the XFINITY race that afternoon. It felt weird to be in a different color suit for the first time in a couple years, but it had some similarity to it in reminding him of his late model suit. Spinning around and giving himself another glance, he thought he could get used to it.
“Don’t worry – the ladies will fan over you regardless,” he heard pit crew coach and his health expert of the weekend Greg Morin behind him. “They may even want to pinch your butt as I hear white brings that feature out more.”
He had to chuckle as he thought about that. It felt weird to have the girls fanning over him every weekend, messaging him that he was cute and they had a crush on him. He was just a simple boy from Georgia. He didn’t think there was anything special to his looks as there was no way that he stood out to anyone.
The repetition of events also formed once again as he watched the hauler door open up, and saw his mother standing there, arms crossed.
“Chase, you shouldn’t be running this race,” he hears, all too sounding familiar. It was the same thing that Sarina had told him before the Can-Am Duel. It was the same thing that he heard about running the three practice sessions since the Can-Am Duel from his crew chief. It was the same thing that Dale told him going into the weekend, offering to run the XFINITY car and break the deal that they had. It was growing annoying, but he understood the reason. They all simply cared about him a lot.
“I’ll be fine mom,” he tells her, knowing that it probably wouldn’t do any good in easing her worry. He knew that she’d be on his case about this till the moment that he was strapped in that No. 88 Tax Slayer Chevrolet.
“Dale told you that he’d run the rac-”
“I know what Dale told me, but I can do this. I’ll be fine. I want to run this. I need more practice and to learn more before Sunday’s race.”
It seemed like a ridiculous reason, but it was one that he stuck by. He had learned a bunch in practice and through the Can-Am Duel, but knew there was still ways that he could improve in drafting. While the XFINITY package was much different than the Sprint Cup Series package, there were small things that he could pick up in going through the motions of race, from getting back in the flow of pit stops to choosing the right line to draft in.
He understood their worries, though, as they all felt concern surrounding his level of pain. As noted, it was something that came up during the Can-Am Duel and he felt post-race, in going through breathing exercises and finding ways to ease the pain. That was 70 laps and he had felt a lot afterwards. It was why he was partially set on also running the race today. Being able to put 300 miles under his belt, and feeling the pain that he’d feel would prepare him and warn him for what he’d feel the next day in running 500 miles. If he could understand the pain, he could figure just how much concentration that it’d take to overcome it. besides, adrenaline played a big role in ignoring it, too.
Giving his mom a hug and a kiss, as well as another reassuring comment that he’d be fine, he makes his way out to pit road, set forth for the busy day ahead. He was set to qualify the car, run a final Sprint Cup Series practice session, followed by the XFINITY race. In the midst of that, there was dealing with the normal hoopa that surrounded him in interviews and autographs. Why was a simple boy from Georgia so important?
The day seemed to go by with ease, as he quickly found himself standing on the grid before the 300-mile race. He had qualified decently, within the teens, which meant a solid spot. if he could just pull off the right moves early in the going, he could get up front and stay up there to stay out of trouble.
“You seem nervous…” Chase comments as he looks over at Sarina, who was leaning against the car, tapping her foot against the pavement. She then looks over at him with a sigh.
“I’m fine…” She states as he shakes his head no, walking over in front of her.
“That’s a big load of crap so why don’t you tell me the truth?” She then lets out a sigh as she glances away, before returning her eyes back to his.
“I’m nervous about today’s race, okay? I’m nervous that something is going to happen and you’re going to hurt yourself. I’m just worried about you….” He then grabs her hand lightly with his, rubbing the back of it with his fingers as he keeps his gaze locked on her eyes.
“I’m going to be fine. You, just like everybody else, can stop worrying about me. If there was any hint that there’d be a problem, I wouldn’t be doing this.” She shakes her head, knowing that was probably the truth. However, she could only keep picturing what happened last year, and what happened last night in her head.
“What happens if you hit the wall like Kyle did? What happens if you flip like Christopher did? I can’t help but run those thoughts through my mind, Chase. I’m worried…” A small smile formed on his face.
“It’s because you love me, and you care about me more than you’re willing to admit, right?” She found her cheeks going a dark shade of red as she tried to look away from him. She now understood why some wives couldn’t bare to watch the race, and why others felt nervous as ever watching. “Sarina….”
“Okay, so I’ve fallen for you a lot more than I thought. Now, can you listen to me?” He shakes his head no as he focuses her gaze back on his.
“You’re a racer like myself. Out of all the people here worried today, you should know better than anyone why I am doing this. Like I said, though, I’ll be fine and there’s nothing to worry about. Just place those thoughts about Chris and Kyle out of your mind, and focus on the fun that we can have today.” She knew that he was probably right in having some fun. JR Motorsports always had quick superspeedway cars, and had come accustom to winning races in the past at Daytona and Talladega. Perhaps this could be a fun day, after all.
“I’ll try, for you. I love you.” She then leans in and gives in a quick kiss, followed by holding him closer longer than she had originally realized.
Following the standard opening ceremonies, Chase gave his parents each a hug, followed by a final kiss and hug to Sarina before climbing in the car. There was no time anymore to think about the worries that everybody had. He had to focus on the job at hand.
Throughout the course of the race, he played his strategy right, staying near the front for much of it, except for a small blip when he got shuffled back through pit strategy. However, everything came together as the race closed as he found himself leading with teammate Elliott Sadler in toe.
The final lap was where everything took place, as Joey was able to get the run. Using the knowledge that he had gained through the years with the package and the day, he made the block on Joey, in which Joey went forth in pushing him ahead. Joey then pulled to make the move high, in which Chase blocked just enough to edge the previous Daytona 500 winner at the line.
“Great job!!” Dave Elenz exclaimed over the radio, immediately beginning to high-five crew members on the team.
“Spectacular driving at the end,” Eddie D’Hondt came over the radio next.
“Woohoo!” Chase let out after everybody else had made their comments on the radio. “Great spotting, Eddie. Great car, Dave. Great job everybody.”
Chase ten coasted the car around to the front stretch, where it officially ran out of fuel. That was fine, though, as he climbed out and waved to the crowd before collecting the checkered flag. Returning back to the car and leaning against it, he knew that it’d be a bit before the tow truck got there to give him a push. It was fine, though, as he used the time to reflect.
It had been a chaotic couple of weeks, between preparing for the new season, aligning thing for Sarina with the late model team, and the plane crash. However, in that moment of reflection, it was all worth it. The pain that he had endured was worth it. The pressure that he kept trying to push aside was worth it. There was nothing that could replace the thrill of victory. In a way, everything made this moment sweeter.
Once he did get to victory lane, a certain party ensued with hugs shared all around, including a special hug and kiss for Sarina. It was the pair’s first trip to victory lane, and nothing could damper the smiles on either of their faces. Chase never thought that he could fall in love with a girl, always focused on his racing career, but he knew that this girl was the one. Sarina always found herself scared of love, but was glad that she let the walls cave in this moment for this time with Chase.
Now it was just about having a good run tomorrow to complete Speedweeks on a great note.