Chase wakes up the next morning, glancing around the room confused. Why was he in the trailer? How long had he been on the couch?
“Oh man…” he says out loud as he goes to move, feeling a pain up his left side, originating from his ribs. Relaxing back down and taking a couple deep breathes, he goes through the exercises, allowing his body to calm down before attempting to move again. He knew a couple Tylenol would be his friend.
“Well hello sleeping beauty,” he hears as he watches the lounge door open, looking up to see Alan standing there. It was better having Alan walk in on him than a random crew member.
“What time is it?” Chase then slowly sits up, letting out another sound of aggravation.
“It’s 10. You’ve got an hour and a half till The Clash.” He easily shakes his head, before snatching his phone off the table to check a couple messages. He watches as the crew chief quickly leaves the room, giving him some privacy, only to return five minutes later with a tray. Alan sets the tray down on the table as Chase looks at the contents. “Breakfast is served and ready for you. We made it about a half hour ago, but I kept a plate nice and warm for you for when you were ready.”
“You didn’t have to do that…” Chase then glances at the plate – eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, home fries – accompanied by a glass of orange juice and two Tylenol. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Chase then picks up the Tylenol, slipping them in his mouth with the orange juice before beginning to eat his breakfast.
“I didn’t realize I fell asleep here. I laid back for a second last night due to the pain, wanting to let myself calm a bit before heading out, and I guess I fell asleep.” Alan shakes his head, remembering when the crew guys had called him in the trailer last night.
“You were exhausted, and that caught up with you. You admitted to me the other day that you weren’t sleeping, and you know that only five hours sleep in three nights is no good. Jared found you, called me. I grabbed the blanket, turned off the light and told the guys that you were staying here as the sleep would be good for you. I guess I was right.” Chase shakes his head yes, savoring how refreshed he felt with a full night of sleep underneath him now.
“It feels good, honestly. I slept great as I didn’t wake up once at all last night.” Alan smiled as he knew it was progress. He knew if they were set to move forward without Sarina in his life, considering she hadn’t accepted his offer to talk and called yet, then baby steps would need to be taken.
“Maybe it’s the change of scenery. You’re used to sleeping with her in the motorcoach that being somewhere else away from the reminders helped you.” Chase didn’t want to think that way as he wanted those reminders, wanting to remember the good time as he hung on to hope that at some point his phone would ring today.
“Maybe, I guess.” Alan didn’t want to push his young driver; however he felt the relationship break-up advice on tip of his tongue. Perhaps it could wait another day as they had a race to run, followed by qualifying.
“I am going to go and let you finish eating, followed by getting ready. Hopefully we can make today a special day.” Chase smiles, shaking his head in agreement as he watches the crew chief head out.
Standing on pit road, he glances out to the 2.5-mile track, not believing he was standing in the exact same spot that he was standing a year ago.
How were they the quickest in the first round? How were they once again having a shot at the pole?
Based on what he had seen in practice, he thought there was no way they could be this quick again. It was the Fords and Toyotas that had shown the way, with everyone believing they’d be the front rows. However, instead, it seemed that he and his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. had proven otherwise in the first round.
The question remaining – could he back it up in round two?
“Ready to go?” Jared Seate questions his young driver as Chase glances over, shaking his head yes.
“Just can’t believe we’re standing here again with another shot,” Chase offers as he takes a couple deep breathes. He knew there’d be a bit of pain in climbing back in the car so he had to mentally and physically prepare himself, remembering the steps talked about.
“Welcome to Alan Gustafson and Rick Hendrick. That’s a pair together that makes magic happen with fast racecars.” Jared had been watching Chase throughout the day, seeing an extra pep in the step. Perhaps it was due to the extra bit of sleep – or maybe Sarina had reached out against everybody’s predictions. He didn’t want to ask, though, not wanting to spoil the good mood and lose out on the pole that way.
“I couldn’t agree with you more, Jared.” Clearing his mind of the discussion, he knew it was now or never as he watched the next car scream by. Remembering to take a deep breath, he climbed into the car – right leg first so that way the left side could be as relaxed as possible. The movements came stiff, as the wrapping job kept everything in place. He then looks out to the track, letting his legs rest in the car, as he takes another deep breath.
“Do you need me to hold you or anyth-” Jared hadn’t ever been on pit road with Chase before so he wasn’t sure on the process that was discussed in dealing with the broken ribs.
“I’ve got this – just let me do it with time.” Jared then relaxes, giving his young driver space, but keeping a careful eye on him in the process. He watched as Chase’s eyes glanced around, cameras clicking off in different directions. Like last year, there were people watching – but not as much as last year. The factor of being the new star had worn off, with the big media blitz now surrounding his teammate’s return to racing. Chase liked it that way, as he could focus on what he needed to do.
“5 more cars.” Jared then watches Chase slip into the window carefully, sinking down in the seat. Once again, he watched as Chase repeated the breathing exercises prescribed to him, allowing the pain to get back under control again. It was a 30 second exercise as Greg, their pit crew coach, had noted the stress that the body went through just for that fluid motion.
“Jared?” Jared then comes over and Chase points up to the belts. Normally, he’d reach up and pull the shoulder belts down, but with the injury only being a week old – he didn’t want to push the stress boundaries. He lets the crew member lock the belts into place, before putting the window net and stepping back to let Chase focus in on what he needed to do.
He couldn’t think about the pain, the broken ribs, or Sarina anymore. In a mere couple of minutes, he’d be making the one single lap that’d matter for everything that afternoon. If he wanted to give this team what they deserved for their hard work through the off-season in building a fast car, this lap had to be his focus.
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 dash, watching the lights flash across the screen as they had done in practice, waiting for them all to light up – before the last three red ones. Once the first red light comes on, he shifts into the next gear, repeating the process all the way up to fourth.
Bringing the car to the top of the track around the banking in turn two, he places both hands on the steering wheel, remembering – smooth motions on the steering wheel to not scrub off speed.
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 through speedweeks thus far. If you looked at a range from 1 to 10, this pain could be described right in the middle of the scale – a 5 – nothing new in his book of experience.
Returning to pit road, there were smiles all the way around as he had done what he needed to, clocking in a lap just a touch quicker than his teammate to win the pole.
He had done it again. He was the Daytona 500 pole sitter.
“Awesome car, great job everybody,” he tells the entire team, giving each member a high-five before doing the first couple interviews required.
Following the interviews, he begins to make his way over to victory lane, set for the presentation. As he makes the walk over, he takes his phone from his publicist, checking the first view notifications.
He was set to read the text messages from all his buddies, when one stood out amongst the rest. He immediately opened it, a smile forming on his face.
Congratulations on your pole, superstar. Enjoy the entire blitz that comes with it and make sure this year to run all 500 miles, perhaps ending up in victory lane. If nobody has told you today, you’re amazing. Hope you’re not too sore, either.
It wasn’t the phone call he wanted. It wasn’t the offer to have the discussion that he wanted to have. However, she hadn’t totally forgotten about him, either.
Thx , I’ll try lol Not feeling to bad either. Miss u, hope we can talk soon. Call me when u can, plz. Offer still stands.