Race Day – Dover International Speedway
Chase walks up behind Alyssa, rubbing both of her shoulders as she relaxes back in his arms.
“No pressure,” he whispers in her ear. “Just do your thing. I know the weekend hasn’t quite gone as expected, but as long as you do your thing, you’ll be fine. If it’s meant to be, then today will be your day. But if it’s not, we always have next week, and even next year. Believe in yourself.” He then kisses her cheek.
“I just need to focus and not let it get in my head,” Alyssa comments as she takes a deep breath. “I know I can do well here. The Monster has been my friend before. I just need to take it easy, run the laps, and it’ll come together. I believe in myself, I believe in Kevin, and I believe in this team.” He smiles as he continues rubbing her shoulders.
“Then what are we worried about?” She then turns around slowly.
“What if it doesn’t go the way I want this week, or next week at Charlotte? Then everything that I’ve worked hard to get back to doing will be for nothing.” He immediately shakes his head no.
“No, it’ll still be worth the world, because you proved to everyone how strong you are. You proved to yourself that you wouldn’t go down without a fight. You proved to those who doubted your ability. You’ve also grown a whole new world of admirers, of people who are faced with the same challenges, showing them that they can do it, too.” She smiles as she wraps her arms around him.
“Thank you, and you’re going to find your way back, too.” He nods his head, accepting, as he lays his head on her shoulder.
“I know. I’m working at it, slowly, one day at a time.”
“That’s all I ask, Chase. Any progress is better than no progress.”
The pair stand together for opening ceremonies, before sharing quick kiss together. He then walked away as she climbed in the car, set for 300 miles, hopeful that everything would pan out as expected.
Taking his usual seat on the pit box, he takes a deep breath and crosses his fingers, not willing to give up just yet.
The first stage wavered his faith as there was nothing good said on the radio about the car’s handling. By the end of the second stage, he was set to strange Kevin Meendering in seeing no progress being made, as she had almost spun it out a couple of times and was barely remaining on the lead lap.
“We can still do this,” Kevin tells her over the radio as he takes a deep breath. No matter what, he had to remember what Dale said. Just be positive and it’ll work out some way.
“Then give me something to work with!” She yells back in return, obviously growing frustrated as she seen her championship dreams slowly begin to fade away.
“I’m trying, Alyssa. I just adjusted the air pressure, and took the spring rubber out of the right front. It should fix the issues that you’re having.” She wanted to believe his words, but she was slowly losing faith considering that the car had slowly gotten harder to drive more each run.
“It better, because I can’t keep doing this…” She wasn’t about to say it straight out on the radio, but driving with one hand against the monster was physically taxing. Her left arm and hand felt like it could fall off with the amount of muscle strain that she was feeling having to pull so hard on the wheel. It had been nothing that she had felt before – whether testing, practice, or other races – but today it just seemed to be at it’s worse.
“Hang in there, and keep at it. There’s lots of time. We can do this.”
When the green flag came out, she pushed as hard as she could, putting every bit of faith that the car would handle better this run. As they got five, 10 laps into the run, it felt more secure than it had all day. She began to make passes, moving up a couple positions with ease.
As the run drew on, she caught more cars, and easily made her way by, able to roll the bottom unlike she had all day. She found herself quickly up into the top-10, followed by the top-five. With the laps counting down, she was now putting down some of the best lap times.
She easily made her way up to fourth, followed by third. Chase silently crossed his fingers for a caution, knowing that she could do it if they got a final restart – but that never came. Instead, she was able to get up to second – but never closed up the ground lost to Erik Jones, ultimately crossing the finish line in the runner-up spot.
While it was a great rebound for how they started the weekend, it wasn’t the finish she wanted as it wouldn’t be enough. With the engine blowing last week, she needed a win if she wanted to get to the next round, not a second.
It showed on her face as she climbed out of the car, leaning back against it, physically and mentally worn out as she did a series of interviews.
“I’m proud of the fight you showed,” Kevin tells her as he gives her a hug. “You were absolutely amazing out there. I’m sorry I didn’t give you a better car to start the weekend. We’ll get them next week at Charlotte.” She nods her head, accepting.
“She was a rocket at the end – just not quick enough,” she comments as she takes a big swig from the bottle of water. She then keeps her eyes down at the ground, still feeling the pain through her.
“Are you okay?” Chase questions as he makes his way over, and she glances up to meet his brown eyes.
“I’m disappointed beyond anything. I could just stand here and cry with how close we came after everything. I could just scream in frustration. I am pissed, upset, and I’m sore. I can’t tell you how hard I drove today. My arm is sore from fighting the car. But why is it when I need that late race caution I don’t get one, but I always seem to get it when I don’t want it?” Chase shrugs his shoulders as he begins to rub her arm with his hand.
“Like I said before the race – if it’s meant to be-”
“That’s not comforting right now, Chase!” Chase takes a deep breath as he tries to find the right set of words to say.
“I know it’s not, but that’s just how life is. Sometimes it’s fair, and sometimes it isn’t. Look at the bright side – you put in one helluva finish today despite everything, and you have the roval next week. If there’s any place where you can pull a rabbit out of your hat, it’s there.” She smiles, nodding her head. She was feeling quite confident after her performance at Road America.
“I just wish it would’ve ended differently…” He nods his head, sympathizing with her.
“I know. Why don’t you go do your media center commitments, and then come back to the motorcoach with me? I can run you a nice warm bubble bath with vanilla scented candles and a lavender scented bath bomb, and then make your favorite for dinner.” She smiles a little.
“You’re just trying to butter me up…”
“What else am I supposed to do? I know how you feel, and I know there’s nothing in the world that I can say to make you feel better. So I figured I’d take another approach, and at least help you out a different way.” She then leans in and kisses his lips.
“Thank you for understanding, and for just being here. You better not forget about that offer.” He smiles as she heads off to the media center with her PR rep.
Chase then turns on his heels, heading back towards the motorcoach lot. The walk back through the garage area was simple enough, followed by crossing through the underground bridge to where the motorcoachs were parked behind the track.
He wasn’t expecting the sea of people, though, as they immediately crowed around, holding out various merchandise, looking for autographs. He takes a deep breath, followed by taking out a marker, and begins signing as he keeps his feet moving forward.
“Give me a bit of space to walk please,” he asks as he feels every anxious part of him pick up the pace in seeing the crowd continue to thicken. Continuing to take deep breaths, reminding himself of nothing to be worried about, he is able to keep moving with ease and brings the panic down to a minimum.
“When are you going to come back racing?” One of the fans asks in the crowd.
“Soon, I hope,” he answers as he signs the autograph for them, before reaching the gates for the motorcaoch lot. He quickly flashes his card, going through the gates and continuing to walk in the direction he was headed.
With the crowd left behind him, he goes around the corner, pausing and leaning back against a fence as he takes a couple deep breathes. Closing his eyes, he continues going through the process of reminding himself he was safe, things were fine, and there was nothing to worry about.
“Hey, are you okay?” He hears, opening his eyes as he sees Leo Gordon standing there. He nods his head as he takes a final deep breath.
“Yeah, I’m fine actually,” he answers. “Just taking a quick breather.” Leo nods his head accepting.
“You know, if you want, I can walk back with yo-”
“No, it’s fine. I’m fine really. Thank you for stopping and asking.” Chase then heads in the direction he was going to go, actually feeling pride to himself in how he handled the situation with the crowd.
Maybe he would be ready to go back racing sooner than expected.