Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 61: The Duels

You had to know this chapter was coming 😉 Thanks for the reviews.

Chase glances out the window as he watches the rain continue to fall for the second straight day. In a way, it matched his attitude.

He had to admit the simple text message on Sunday was nice from Sarina. At that moment he had received it, it had caused a smile and hope to surround him. Though now sitting four days later, staring at his phone and seeing no more messages, the hope began to fade.

What if she had done that just to be polite?  What if she had changed her mind? What if they’d never get back to where they were before?

As he finds himself sitting in the team hauler staring out the window once again, he could only think back to what he imagined the season being like.  He pictured them hanging out at the track every weekend, telling each other jokes, picking on each other. He pictured some sweet moments where they’d be able to chat about everything under the sun. He pictured her winning some races, and he being in victory lane to celebrate with her. He pictured her being in victory lane when he’d win some races. He pictured himself getting her advice ahead some of the events. He even pictured racing door-to-door with her at Atlanta next week when he gets the chance to drive the truck for GMS Racing. He had to admit that part of the reason he had sought out running a couple truck races this year was to race against her.

Letting out a sigh, he wondered if perhaps it was time to let go. They always said in every break-up, you come to a time when you realize you’re getting nowhere and it’s time to move forward. Maybe that’s what he needed to do. Rather than focusing on her and what could be, he should focus on what could be of his season and the team. He could also focus on having some fun times with his best friends, letting Ryan entertain him with all the ideas he had last year that they never fulfilled due to the busy schedule.

“You look like you’re lost in your thoughts,” he hears a voice, catching his attention as he looks back to see his dad standing there.

“Perhaps I am,” he answers as he glances back out the window. It was nice to see the rain letting up, and track drying nearing completion with the trucks heading out for their first session. Letting out a sigh, he knew that she should’ve been behind the wheel of the No. 18 truck that afternoon.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Chase shakes his head no, knowing the discussion would get him nowhere. The only thing everybody would suggest is what Jared said – calling Sarina himself and pushing the discussion subject. However, he still couldn’t let himself do that because he didn’t want to push her away. But the thought lingered as perhaps by not expressing enough feelings, he was indeed letting her slip away. “That’s fine. I totally understand you wanting to keep your feelings about Sarina to yourself.”

“How did you know that what I was thinking about? What if I was thinking about tonight?” Bill knew his son well, and knew racing was always on Chase’s mind. Bill could just see Chase trying to make sure he had the right strategy to do well in the Duel, pondering over the lack of practice, and seeing if he could teach himself anything from the Clash. However, he knew by the look on his face that the thoughts didn’t surround racing.

“Because I’m your father and I know you well. Based on what you told Cindy and I the other night, and based on the look on your face, I’m guessing you’re thinking about her. You’re wondering if she’ll truly have the discussion you want to have, and whether you both have a future.” Chase then looks away the window at her father, perhaps changing his mind on the discussion subject. Perhaps his father could make him feel better. Perhaps they could erase the topic from his mind so he could focus on racing that night.

“Do you see a future for Sarina and I, honestly?” Bill didn’t know how to answer the question. He had to admit that a lot had happened between the pair, and wasn’t confident based on what he had seen of Sarina thus far. Her shady ways connected with the fact of hiding away, not wanting to confess further to find the barrier that they needed to close. Besides, she probably worried there’d be no comfort ever due to Chase’s past with Chris, which Bill had to admit worried him, too.

“Anything is possible, Chase. It’s all up to what she decides to do and how she chooses to handle the situation. I don’t know her that well to see whether she can put everything aside enough to hear you out, and then even at that point accept it. You saw hope in the text message, so that’s a start. Perhaps once her brother continues to get even more better, that text message will turn into messages, followed by the proper conversation you’re awaiting for.” Chase had to admit that his father was right in some of his comments. Maybe the text message was a way to say that I’m still keeping track of you and a request for patience – without those exact words.

“I guess. I don’t know. I just hate this agonizing over waiting. I can’t stand the distance.” Bill felt her heart break in hearing those words, especially if his gut was right about Sarina.

“I totally understand that, but use it to your advantage. Let it push you harder to succeed to take your mind off of it. Let it push you to really be clear with her when the door of opportunity opens.” Bill then stands up, walking over to the cupboard as he opens the door. “Now, Greg Morin says he’s busy and caught up with some of the crew members as there’s something going on there. So he asked if I’d help you get ready.”  Chase shakes his head accepting, as he takes a deep breath to clear his mind.

There was no more thinking about Sarina. He had a race to win.

He went through the usual steps of getting ready, as Greg had set them last year with the same rib injury, and repeated this year once again as they had worked well. He took the Tylenol before slipping his t-shirt off and standing there, arms raised in the air.

“Ugh,” he lets out as he reaches up, catching Bill’s attention. “It hurts..a little.”

“Is that why they advise stretching or reaching till healed?” Bill wonders and Chase shakes his head yes, taking a couple calming deep breathes.  He remains in the position as he watches his dad tightly wrap him, pulling the first wrap around a little tighter before allowing him to continue. “Are you sure?”

“It’s all about possible precaution in case something happens. It needs to be tightly wrapped so if I hit a wall, it doesn’t make it worse.” Bill wasn’t set to argue, having seen it work last year – thankfully. He just hoped that Alan had figured out what was going on with the back ends getting loose, and they didn’t repeat what Johnson did in the Clash.  “As soon as the Duel is done, I need to get his unwrapped – before media, anything.”

“Just make sure to tell Morgan.” Chase shakes his head, knowing he was referring to his new PR rep. Once the wrapping was done, he slipped on his firesuit as normal before glancing at himself in the mirror. As it had every other time, everything looked smooth and nobody could’ve been able to tell what was going on otherwise. “You know you don’t  have to…..”

“You sound like mom right now.” Bill lets out a sigh as he places his hands on Chase’s shoulders.

“You’re only a week and a half removed from what happened, you have a lot on your mind, and there seems to be a spin issue for the Hendrick cars. Do you blame me?” Chase chuckles as he had to admit his father was right. However, he knew he was doing the right thing in running the race that night.

“Just like last year, I need to run it. I need to learn and get better at this drafting thing. Look at the Clash and how I did there. Look at last year. The only way to learn is by being out there – you know that. As far as the spin thing, that’s another thing. It’s a risk but I need to make sure that’s been solved and Alan is on the right track. You trust me, right?” Bill shakes his head yes as he steps back a bit.

“Of course I do. I just thought I’d remind you of that fact, incase.” Chase smiles as he glances in the mirror once again before look at his dad.

“I’ll be fine, trust me.” He then takes a couple more deep breathes, before grabbing the sharpie and hat off the table and heading out of the trailer, set to head to the driver’s meeting.

For a quick second, he understood the worries and everything being thrown his way. He remembered the pain he felt last year, and that was two weeks removed with some calm time. He remembered the pain that he felt this past Sunday in the Clash, and how it took a bit after in the trailer to get himself not sore anymore. The pain was more than he remembered last year – but yet still a light, lingering pain that he could put aside for the race distance. He just hoped that remained true as the distances got longer, especially Sunday.

After attending the driver’s meeting, he made his way out to pit road, going through the normal range of motions – TV interview, driver introductions, VIP photos, and radio interview. It paid to have been here before as he was used to everything that came with being the pole sitter for the first Duel. The only difference this year was he didn’t have his teammates coming to him with advice like they did last year. Guess that was the difference in no longer being the rookie.

He then stood there for opening ceremonies, feeling the bit of loneliness he felt earlier crept into his mind in not having Sarina to wrap his arm around during the national anthem. However, the feeling didn’t remain for long as he felt race mode kicking in as soon the anthem was over and it was time to get ready for the night ahead. He gave his parents each a hug, followed by a hug for the boss and climbing in the car.

Throughout the course of the race, he went through the learning curve that he wanted to put himself through. He led at the beginning, before being shuffled to near the back of the field in the process of picking the wrong lane. Another lesson learned.

He tried to make the bottom work to his advantage following the caution, but it didn’t seem to move with the back log caused. Of course, hearing from Eddie who was in the line answered why. Lesson learned.

As the race neared the final stretch, he was able to make up some ground, picking up the top line for a bit before returning to the bottom. He had begun to realize how lined formed, and the transfer of energy that Jimmie had spoke of previously. It led him to the front of Duel, and in the right timed move, he was able to put the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet out front.

As the laps continue to count down, he felt charges from his left and right with drivers tying to make runs on him – from Jamie McMurray on one side, to Brad Keselowski on the other side. Each time, he was able to make the block necessary – based on Eddie’s comment, and perhaps a bit of his own knowledge.

Every move paid off because as the checkered flag flew, he was the first to cross – officially a winner.

“Wooohooo!” He lets out on the radio immediately. “Way to go guys! Thanks for giving me a great car, and Eddie – thanks.”

“Great driving tonight, Chase!” Eddie tells his driver back in return.

“Heck of a job, kid!” Alan adds as he high-fives the crew members on pit road.

There was no time post-race to think about the pain, Sarina, or unwrapping himself as originally intended. There was part of him later that said he should’ve been relaxing, per orders to take care of himself, but that was the last thing on his mind in the moment. Instead, he was caught up in the moment of victory lane – speaking to TV, celebrating with the team, taking the necessary photos, speaking in the media center.

Everything took it’s time, though eventually he found himself back in the familiar trailer. Undoing the firesuit, letting it fall as he undid the wrapping, he began to feel the familiar pain as he laid back on the couch set to watch the second Duel. Going through the breathing exercises that he was told to follow while placing an ice pack on his side, he felt the pain ease as he focused on the happenings in the second event.

He took notice of how Dale controlled the lanes. He took notice of how Dale was able to get the runs to the front. He also took notice of how Denny pulled off the winning move, marking that in the playbook so he knew what to expect in the final laps on Sunday.

Letting out a sigh, having eased most of the pain by the end of the event between the exercises and ice, he could only think about the next six to eight weeks and how the pain would continue. He could only hope that like last time, it eased off more and more with each week.

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