Wednesday, February 13 – Daytona International Speedway – 1 week, 3 days old
“You do realize that you can’t just stare at that image all day long, right?” Chase questions as he walks up behind Sarina, wrapping his arms around her from behind.
It wasn’t long ago that they’d landed in Daytona, ready for what the day had in store. Chase was doing media day interviews for the Daytona 500, while Sarina was supposed to go through photo shoots and video for NASCAR and NASCAR on FOX coverage.
With having landed in Florida, they both went and got changed into their firesuits, meeting up quickly thereafter together. Chase had no complaints about the sponsors having an all-black firesuit for Sarina this season.
“I know,” she quietly comments as she leans back in his arms. “I just can’t help it, Chase.” He smiles, knowing the feeling from just a couple days ago as he rubs her shoulders.
“She’s beyond adorable, and you know that she’s in good hands with the nurses, the doctors, and Brittany. Besides, my mom said if there was any issues at all, she or Brittany would call us immediately.” He then slowly pries the tablet out of her hands, turning the image off. “Relax, breathe, everything will be fine. Besides, the sooner you get done what you need to do and I get done my interviews, the quicker we can get on the plane and fly back.”
“Promise?” He nods his head as he turns her around to face him. “I mean, you will absolutely make certain that we will be back in Georgia tonight.”
“Absolutely. I wouldn’t tell you otherwise, would I?” She shakes her head no, as he leans in for a small kiss. “Might I add, you are looking very mighty fine today.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I thought it was a little tight pulling it on initially.” Chase shakes his head no as he rests his hands on her hips.
“That just allows it to show off all your curves in the right places. I just hope the other guys aren’t staring too much today…” She then shyly smiles back in response as she wraps her arms around him.
“The same could be said for you darling, as I don’t need the ladies thinking they can steal you away from me. In case you haven’t realized, you’re all mine Mr. Elliott.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Mrs. Elli-”
“Sarina Elliott?” They hear, catching them off-guard as someone walks over to them. “We’re ready for you in the NASCAR on Fox stage shoot.” Sarina couldn’t help the smile that had formed on her face.
“It even sounds nice coming from someone putting me to work,” she comments as Chase chuckles back in response. “I’ll see you later, prince charming.” She then snags one more kiss before heading off for the photo shoot.
Chase, meanwhile, met up with Morgan before heading to where the media was hubbed together. First, he’d be doing a series of interviews for TV with an array of microphones before him. Then, it was time for a series of print reporters to stick their voice recorders out and ask the questions they desired. Then after that, as he understood, it was quick hits with some of the major networks, followed by FOX and NBC to complete the day.
As he got into doing the interviews, it didn’t surprise him when he was asked about the positive and negative reaction from the fans, especially since he had won the Most Popular Driver Award last year.
“There’s some interesting folks out there, man,” he commented with a half chuckle. “It’s interesting. But nonetheless, whether they like me or hate me, I appreciate them either way. They’re not going to hurt my feelings whether they hate me or like me. Happy to have them. ”
“We saw the announcement about the birth of your daughter Abigail,” one of the reporters catches his attention. “How are things going?”
“They are going well, thankfully. According to the doctors, she’s doing well and continuing to grow and get stronger. It’s just a matter of playing the waiting game in seeing what happens next. You could say that both Sarina and I are hopeful to have her at the track with us soon.”
“It is interesting to see Sarina here this weekend….” Chase nods his head.
“We’re racers. It’s what we do. As much as we both want to be spend every single minute, second of the day with our daughter, you can’t just give this up. We’re just one person on our respective teams. There are a lot of crew members who depend on us and the success we have together. I am here for them, wanting to thank them for their hard work and showcase that on track. I want to give them the best opportunity to run for a championship, and that begins with Daytona. Selfishly, I want the title and the Daytona 500 win too. I’m sure that’s what drives Sarina to be here, as well. That’s what drove her to race last season, too.” It felt odd in answering the questions about it, and truth to be told he could probably never admit every single feeling about it to them. However, it felt nice to give them some perspective.
“And what about everything that happened last season, and through the winter?” Chase takes a deep breath, not surprised.
“My stance remains the same. I am not going to discuss the details as they’re not necessary.” He then glances around, hoping to change the pace as he didn’t want to get stuck on that topic.
“NASCAR has began to discuss possible changes, whether it’s the schedule, bringing in new manufacturers. What most do you have your eye on? Any of that have your attention at all?” Chase takes a deep breath. It would be easy to come out and say certainly what he felt, and almost felt in doing so, proud of how Bubba Pollard had done so on the short track side. However, the comments from NASCAR post-test also reigned at the back of his mind.
“Man, no. I don’t write the rules. That’s not my job. I’m not sure. I used to get kind of fired up about stuff, be frustrated about different things here and there. It’s out of my hands, way above my position. I’m happy to be here and happy to be driving. I’ll keep focusing on racing on Sundays. If they seek out my opinion, want to ask me, I’d be happy to give it to them behind closed doors, but not here right now.”
“Do you think the schedule is a something?” Chase wouldn’t mind being asked about it, as he wouldn’t mind suggesting some more short tracks as well removing a couple of the boring intermediates. However, was that really necessary to say right now?
“My opinion is irrelevant on that.”
Wednesday, February 13 – Northeast Georgia Medical Center – 1 week, 3 days old
“I admit that I enjoyed today,” Sarina comments as they walk over to the incubator. “I admit that the photo shoot with NASCAR and Fox was entertaining. I admit that the simulator was probably the best part – and I probably did a better job than you…” Chase just rolls his eyes. “I also had fun catching up and seeing everybody. While I was apprehensive about leaving here today and going to the track, it was nice.”
“Really?” He questions and she nods her head.
“It was a good change of pace, distraction from my worries about the future.” Chase then places a hand on her shoulder.
“What have I told you about that?” Sarina takes a deep breath, remembering the several discussions.
“I can’t help it, though. She’s so small, and there’s so many things that could possibly happ-”
“We’ve made it through 10 days without a problem. The majority show up in the first 48 hours. You can stop worrying. She’s going to be okay.” Sarina nods her head, letting those words soak in.
“As much fun as I had today, though, I am glad to be back here. It actually makes this moment even sweeter because I can tell her about the joys and fun that I had.” Chase smiles, having done the same when he had seen her yesterday. “I never did ask you. How did the interviews go?”
“Rutledge, Kyle and AJ are crazy as ever.” Sarina chuckles, not honestly surprised. “I hope Ryan doesn’t get too mad at me for that, but he deserves it for leaving me out.”
“Do I want to know what you said?” Chase shyly shakes his head no as she lets out a sigh.
“Most of it was your typical thoughts on your chances, thoughts on the style of racing, reflections back on last year, and how you feel things will go moving forward this year. They also of course asked me about the clash wrecks, and the fact that we’re not working with Josh this we-”
“Has that really been an issue, yet?” Chase shakes his head no. “So why are they worried?”
“It’s something to talk about and see if I can say something interesting that will spark a memorable quote, right? I mean, that’s probably why they asked my thoughts on the rules, and the schedule. They just wanted to see what they can claw out of you. Meanwhile, we know who is sitting on the other side reading those articles.” Sarina looks over slightly confused. “Your fans are critical, your sponsors are critical, but we both know what NASCAR feels about negative or constructive critics that they can’t handle.”
“Just like they wanted Kyle to quiet after he shared his honest thoughts after the Las Vegas test?” Chase nods his head as Sarina lets out a sigh. “NASCAR goes ‘boys have at it,’ but yet then gets mad when you say something. John Pro-”
“Is the vice president of innovation?” Sarina nods her head.
“So he basically stated that we get paid a good chunk of money to do what we do, and if we continue talking about not needing talent, it will hit us in the pocketbook, essentially that we need to be careful. That to me is a warning from NASCAR that we shouldn’t be spouting off our opinions.”
“Hence why I diverted around the topic, because I didn’t want to get into those muddy waters with NASCAR this early in the season. This isn’t worth it.” Sarina then pulls out her phone, loading a transcript.
“Read Brad Keselowski’s comments. He wasn’t as politically correct as you were.” Chase had to chuckle as he took the phone from her.
“Is he ever, though?” Sarina shakes her head no. “It is a very difficult scenario. The media has a lot of power in our sport. Social media has a lot of power in our sport. That comes at the risk of making a lot of people angry that actually run the sport. It is difficult. Sometimes you feel like you are pushing a sled uphill. It is just the way it is.” Chase smiles as he hands the phone back to her. “I don’t always agree with Brad saying whatever he feels whenever, and sometimes I do believe he should shut up, but he’s right. I’m proud of him.”
“But how soon will he be pulled into the NASCAR hauler now?” Chase had to chuckle as he knew it was only a matter of time.
Thursday, February 14 – Northeast Georgia Medical Center – 1 week, 4 days old
“You need to get going….” Sarina reminded Chase as they stood there together that morning, in their familiar spot by their daughter. Chase knew that as it was time for the Duels, but he also didn’t want to be away from his girls today.
“I wish Valentine’s Day would’ve been yesterday instead of today, so we could’ve spent the whole day together,” he replies as she nods her head in agreement, clutching his hand with hers.
“It’ll only take you a matter of hours to fly down to Daytona, win your Duel, and get your ass back here.” Chase smiles as he liked the thought of that plan.
“But first – I have something for you….” She then looks over, almost slightly confused.
“You do realize that I don’t need any more gifts from you, right? I mean, you’ve given me everything that I could’ve dreamed of. You gave me the snowball necklace, the locket, this ring that will never leave my finger no matter what, our daughter, and most importantly – that love.” She then places her hand on his chest. “What I feel from you out of here means more than anything that you could give me on Valentine’s Day to show your love.”
“I know, but I still want to give you this…” She then takes a deep breath, accepting the small bag from him. She then takes out the wrapping, revealing a small black box. She then follows suit in opening it, smiling as she sees the butterfly immediately.
“Chase….” He then smiles as she pulls it out of the box, flipping it over to see Abigail engraved on the back.
“No matter where you are, you can always have your baby girl with you.” She looks over, smiling. “I figured it was the perfect touch being an anklet so you could wear it underneath your firesuit and nobody would realize or complain.” She then flips it back over to look at the butterfly again.
“That matches the butterfly that is on the car…” He nods his head, remembering the request the custom order detailed.
“We always said that our first baby was with Casey and Victor, and they were always looking out for him, or he-”
“I believe that it was a boy, just like you told me that day…” Chase smiles, remembering the dream that he had that inspired the comment.
“A friend of mine told me that if a butterfly lands on you, it’s someone stopping to say hello. That’s why it just seemed fitting to go with a butterfly for the decal, and for this. Abigail isn’t the only one that’s always with you, giving you the strength and looking out for you.” She then feels a couple tears trickle down her cheeks, immediately reaching for a hug. It was easily accepted, as Chase let her bury her head into his shoulder.
“You’re the most romantic person that I know.” She then slowly lifts it up afterwards, wiping the couple tears away. “This means everything. Thank you.” She then leans in and kisses his lips. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” She then walks away a little, returning shortly after with a bag of her own. “And you told me that I didn’t need to get you something.”
“It seems that we were both thinking the same thing…” He looks over slightly confused, but easily opens the gift. As he opens the box, the smile that formed on his face matched the gift perfectly. To go with the key to her heart locket that hung on her keys, he now had a butterfly locket of his own. Slowly opening it, he found a photo of Sarina and a photo of Abigail. “Now your girls are always with you, no matter where you go.”
“I love this photo that you chose. It’s beautiful…” He then closes the butterfly locket, pulling his keys out and putting it on with them. “Thank you.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day.” She then leans in, kissing his lips. “Now go kick some ass, Clyde.”
Thursday, February 14 – Daytona International Speedway – 1 week, 4 days old
“Have you seen Chase?” Ron Malec asks as he walks down pit road, meeting up with a couple of the crew guys. They immediately point up to the pit box, where Chase sat with a headset on. “Thank you.”
With being in the second of the pair of Duels, Chase elected to sit and take in the first duel from the pit box tuned into Jimmie’s channel. Considering how the Clash had gone, he was willing to take in whatever he could learn before his race. It was all about seeing how the runs happened, where they came from, and if there was a secret to making the right moves. It was also about seeing the mistakes not to make.
Ron quietly took a seat behind Chase, as he watched the action himself. All they could do was shake their heads as they watched Jimmie make contact with Kyle down the backstretch, causing him to spin.
“Apologize to the 18,” Jimmie immediately got on the radio. “I assume that’s on me. got to see the video first. I don’t know what happened.”
“Suddenly I don’t feel so stupid,” Chase comments as he slips the headset off slowly, referencing back to his incident during practice on Saturday. “That said, I have to put the blame fully on you, Jimmie, and I don’t think Kyle will be accepting the apology.”
“Are you seriously throwing your teammate under the bus just like that?” Ron questions, catching Chase’s attention. “I was surprised to see you up here watching the race from this vantage point.
“I got to figure out how to run up front and not wreck, right?” Ron lets out a sigh as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.
“You’re being too hard on yourself. I mean, Saturday was – well, what it was. We both know the left rear is not stable. And Sunday, there’s no way that you can blame that on yoursel-”
“Blame JJ?” Ron went to go say something, but let out a sigh as he knew it was going to get him nowhere. He loved Jimmie and they had been best friends for years, but he had to admit that Jimmie wasn’t the best restrictor plate racer.
“Anyways, that’s not why I came up here. I spoke to my buddy and I got the phone number for the security guards that he hired. Morgan and Associates is the name of the company. I gave them a call, and stated that I was calling on his recommendation. They told me that were fully open to handling everything, and that would include having someone with you, someone with Sarina, someone with Abigail, someone with your parents – whatever else you wa-”
“So Lindsay, Alan and the guys, too?” Ron nods his head, feeling a little unnerving about that as it wasn’t comforting to be a possible target. However, he knew where the suspicion came from based on last year.
“He just stated that he needs a full list of who, and he can make sure he has someone for each individual – handling the most importa-”
“No, she’s the most important. She and Abigail are why I am doing this, Ron.” Ron lets out a sigh, willing to accept.
“Anyways, he said that he’d handle priority one himself. He also has a crack team led by a great female private investigator and a computer tech. They’re looking into any leads as to where Carter could be located, as well as any connection with Damien Crane.” Chase nods his head, accepting. “I know you’re busy tomorrow, but he is willing to have the team down here and ready to go. We can set-up a quick meeting if you would like.”
“That’d be appreciated since Sarina is going to be down here.” Ron already knew that, having glanced at the Xfinity entry list.
“I’m surprised that she’s racing so soon after having the baby, but I know that’ll motivate her to do the best that she can. It’ll be fun watching you run as teammates.”