Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 134: Her Trial and Those Nerves….

Wednesday, August 17 – Indianapolis, Indiana

Chase thins out the creases in his shirt once again, as he lets out a sigh. He wished he was in Bristol right now, but instead he had this to deal with.

“Thanks for coming,” he comments with a glance at his parents as they walk towards the court room doors.

“We’ve always got your back,” Cindy says as she follows him inside. “We would’ve been here whether you asked or not.” Chase smiles, knowing that was true. He just wished Sarina was there too, but she was in Bristol getting ready for practice.

“My phone is turned on silent. I told Sarina I’d text her updates, as long as she let me know how practice went. Hopefully, we’re out of here quickly…” He had already planned to fly to Bristol that night and be there for the truck race, no matter what. He wanted to be there to support his girl.

He heard from her the discussion with Kyle, followed by the extended meeting at Kyle Busch Motorsports on Monday. Everybody knew her short track pedigree and how she could master any track just like that – it was why she was so good behind the wheel of a late model. She also already had laps at Bristol with a late model and ran well. Now knowing the pressure to make the playoffs was picking up, it was now or never to win – and this was the best opportunity looking at the stretch of races.

He had comforted her as much as he could, assuring her that she had the ability to get the job done, but also to relax and just do her thing and it’d pan out right. He also texted Kyle that it may be a good idea to calm off a little as pressure wasn’t needed necessary right now with everything else going on.

Though now being in Indiana set for the first day of another trial spell, he wished with all of his might that he was in Bristol right now by her side, supporting her. Why couldn’t they done this a day before or a day later?

“There he is….” Chase hears, recognizing the voice – Eddie D’Hondt – as he enters the court room, instantly glancing over with a surprise as he sees the whole team sitting there.

“What are you guys doing here?” He questions as the team looks towards the boss. Alan was supposed to mention that they were going to be attending.

“She set up a bomb to blow all of our asses up,” Alan starts. “We’re in this as much as you, so we wanted to make sure and be here. We have to make sure she pays for what she did.” Chase admired the crew’s reasoning, but still felt bad for taking them away from focusing on things in the shop. He knew things were crazy right now at Hendrick with making sure he qualified for the playoffs, and were ready when they started.

“You guys are already working crazy hours, and now you’re putting in flight time and time away from your families, the team that you don’t need to be doing.”

“This is coming from the same guy that said we stick together no matter what and have each other’s back, right?” Jared Seate questions. “No matter what you say, Chase, we felt the need and right to be here. What if – Never mind, I don’t want to picture that happening. But still…” Chase lets out a sigh, knowing that Jared was right in his words – seeing the bit of fear the guys felt in the moment. It was another byproduct of the decision he made….

“Well, I appreciate you being here regardless, and don’t worry – she’s not getting away with this.” Chase then takes his seat, with his parents sitting on either side of him, as he quickly sends a good luck text to Sarina, knowing practice is about to start.

“All rise!” The clerk then states, causing Chase to focus his attention forward as he stands up. “The honorable Judge Mansions preceding!” The female judge walks in, taking her seat on the podium as Chase focuses his eyes on her. He wanted to read her, see whether she was someone that had sympathy or would lay down every ounce of the law in a second.

“You may be seated,” she states, as everyone in the room sits down. “Except for Ms. Alison Stevenson…” Alison remains standing, glancing over at Chase with a wink and smile, before looking back forward. Chase could only roll his eyes, and feel a bit of vomit rising at that thought. “We’re simply here to see how you plead to the charges, which seems to be a decent list. I am going to go through them and you will simply say guilty or not guilty, understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Allison replies as Chase keeps his eyes locked forward, not wanting to take another glance at her.

“On the charge of attempted murder in a public place including over 100 people, how do you plead?” Everybody knew that charge surrounded the bomb that went off in the garage, as some of the crew guys still shivered at the thought. Jared couldn’t stop himself from asking the what if question, either.

“Guilty.” A series of gasps in surprise can be heard throughout the room in response to the charge as Chase glances back at the crew guys surprised. Perhaps this was going to be easier than expected….

“On the charge of poisoning Mr. Chase Elliott, how do you plead?” Chase sits back, closing his eyes as he wishes he could forget how sick he felt that afternoon, and continued to question why he let her play him and not do something sooner.

“Guilty.” Chase was once again surprised, but not willing to argue. It was nice to see everything going to plan.

“On the charge of kidnapping Mr. Elliott, how do you plead?” It was intriguing to hear those words used, given that Chase had voluntarily followed her helper to that location. However, he also did recall being held there against will with the door locked. There was also the fact the state attorney promised she was going to try and catch Allison on every charge possible.

“Not guilty – he came voluntarily.” Chase lets out a sigh, having expected an answer of that magnitude. However, he wasn’t going to worry about it. There was enough years with the other two charges combined.

“Your honor, my client has pled guilty to both charges due to being forced to follow orders from another female in this equation,” Allison’s lawyer speaks up, catching Chase’s attention as a smile forms. There was no question who that other party was, either.

“A plea deal was offered for the informatio-” The attorney starts, which Chase recalled the phone call conversation.

“My client should not serve any time for her wrongdoings simply due to how she was forced by another individual!” Laughter escaped people in the room in response to that, casing the judge to hit her hammer to quiet them down.

“Your honor, she caused Mr. Elliott to be hospitalized almost for a full week, knocked out for almost a whole day. She also caused fear among any person standing in the garage that weekend, which reached the 100s, but more specifically the entire team that works with Mr. Elliott. Just because someone was forced, she shouldn’t be allowed to escape every charge.” There were people who were almost set to cheer at the rebuttal, though stopped themselves as they saw the hammer being raised again.

“Any outbursts from here on out and you will be kicked out of my court room, possibly held in contempt of court,” Judge Mansions says, causing a frozen appearance to go over the room. “A trial will be held to determine whether a sentence should be levied against, and to what extent. We will begin with Allison Stevenson stating what she did, and why, before going from that point with whatever else is felt necessary. Jury or no jury? Media block or none?”

“We would like to keep the media out of this due to being a high profile case,” the attorney states, which Chase had his fingers crossed for. There was going to be enough for a mess caused by the Chris trial in Florida.

“Once again – special treatment for celebrity status?” The lawyer questions. “And we would like a jury, please.”

“The request for a media block has been denied as being high profile, the public does deserve re-assurance,” Judge Mansions says, as Chase lets out a sigh. It was going to be a media mess in the garage for a good bit. “Jury selection will be done, and then we will begin as stated. Has the individual responsible for the threats been arrested?”

“The paperwork is currently being processed as we speak,” the attorney reveals as Chase could only shakes his head. He knew that Bethany would be going into hiding with the thought of being captured – that or expediting whatever plan she had been cooking up in her meetings with Chris. Either way, he immediately found his fingers typing away on his phone quietly to Sarina with an update, including a fair stern warning.

“Thank you. Court adjourned!”

Everybody immediately files out of the court room as Chase glances at the time, figuring out in his head when they’d land in Bristol. Perhaps he’d actually get there in time for qualifying now.

“Surprised by her confession?” Bill questions, catching Chase’s attention as they walk out of the court room.

“Not one bit – Sarina and I figured there was a connection,” Chase answers, remembering their conversation. He also remembered another conversation with Sarina in the timing of the photo being sent, along with a comment traded. “She’s been dropping hints to Sarina for awhile now. It was how Sarina got her hands on the photo that weekend…”

“So she was going to use Allison to break you two up?” Chase nods his head, remembering the comment that Sarina mentioned from Bethany.

“On the first day of Chris’ trial when I wasn’t able to be there, Bethany mentioned something about how I may get bored or annoyed, and stray from her. That very same day was when I first encountered Allison at the Hooter’s Pageant.” Bill shakes his head in disbelief as they reach the car.

“At least Sarina was smart and listened to you and trusted you….” Chase nods his head as he climbs in the car. Though letting out a sigh, he couldn’t let it escape him that it took some convincing from a third party as she was almost set to run away.  “Did she do well in practice?” Chase glances at the results, knowing right away that his dad was trying to get his mind off of what happened.

“Fourth quickest. The boss was first with Bell third. They’ve got some quick trucks…..”

******************************

With both practices in the books, Sarina found herself leaning against the truck, awaiting for qualifying to begin. She kept glancing at her watch, checking the time, remembering the latest text from Chase – he was supposed to be on his way. She couldn’t help but glance towards the gates to see whether he was walking through them. She knew within five minutes of the session, the gates would close and he would be stuck on the outside until the session was over.

Crossing her fingers, she wanted to see her man before then.

She was trying not to be nervous, but she couldn’t help but remember the words chance to win, playoffs, short track queen, your wheel house that had been repeated by crew members, Marcus, Kyle, and the media entering the day. It was like everybody expected her to come in, run well, and battle Kyle for the win – just like her late model short track days.

Nobody understood the difference between the trucks and late models, it seemed. Nobody understood that she was a rookie still trying to learn. Nobody understood that pressure would drive her insane.

“Surprise!” She hears as a pair of arms wrap around her waist, instantly pulling her close. She immediately smiles as she recognized the voice and feeling right away. It was like every bit of anxiety she was feeling escaped immediately, too.

“Thank you….” She then spins around, facing him, wrapping her arms around him.

“Did you really need me that badly?” She nods her head as he keeps her held close.

“You wouldn’t believe the questions in the media center….” He then steps back, looking at her surprised. He could only connect those questions to everything going on with Chris and Allison. “Everybody just assumes that I’m going to be in contention to win because I know short tracks, and it’s Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment. Like, I didn’t need to hear that. I can do that enough myself!” Chase then pulls her back close, running his hands up and down her back.

“Take a deep breath, relax….” He then pauses, looking into her eyes. “What did we talk about this week? What have we talked about every time something like this comes up?” She closes her eyes, remembering their conversations.

“Take a deep breath, relax, be calm, forget the outside world, focus on myself, and just do my thing because no matter what, it’ll play out how it is supposed to.” He nods his head as he pulls her back close, rubbing her back once again.

“Don’t let it eat at you. Your belief in yourself is all you need. Just focus on that, Marcus and everything will work out. You’ve had a great rookie season, showing improvement every week. Just keep doing that, and you’ll eventually get to where everybody thinks you should be. They keep forgetting that you’re just fresh out of late models, and it’s not just going to come to you. Not everybody is a William Byron.”  She then glances at him.

“….or a Chase Elliot-”

“Hey now, I made some costly mistakes when I first moved up, too, and tore up some equipment. I wasn’t no angel by any means.” She shrugs her shoulders, not too sure about that, as she remembered always hearing amazing things. “Look at Joey Logano, though. Look at Truex. Look at Keselowski. Heck, look at your car owner or even Bell. Those guys took time to come into their own. Bell had a bunch of horrendous moments last year, but came into his own as the year closed. Kyle got sent from one team to another due to how he was. It’ll come…”

“I hope you’re rig-”

“I know I’m right. Just believe, okay?” She nods her head as she lays it on his shoulder. “So, we were right about Allison….” She smiles immediately.

“I’m just glad that she had the courage to say something. But to not want any jail time at all?” She then stands straight up, staring at Chase in the eyes. “Are you sure she’s not actually insane?” Chase laughs.

“Hey now, I never said that she wasn’t, either. We saw what she did….” Sarina nods her head. “Regardless, it feels good that we’ve got them on all angles. See, things are starting to work out…”

“It’s a start, I guess…” He then rubs her shoulders once again.

“Believe in yourself – you’re going to have a great night, and the rest of stuff will fall into place. If it makes you feel better, think about the vacation coming up….” She smiles, remembering that discussion. She wasn’t absolutely certain about doing a vacation alongside Ryan, given the fear with what pranks may come, but she was ready to get away and have some fun for a couple weeks.

“What are you most excited for – Amsterdam, Germany, or the Belgium Grand Prix?” Chase thinks it over, remembering the planning that he and Ryan broke down earlier in the week together in places to hit up. It had already been an almost disaster trying to get passes to go to the Formula 1 event, but it paid off to have connections – thanks Jeff!

“Amsterdam looks like it’s going to be amazing with all the places that Ryan has figured out.” Sarina just shakes her head.

“You boys are just excited to try the different beers…” He then chuckles, shrugging his shoulders. He couldn’t deny it…

“It’s going to be a good time regardless, right?” She then rolls her eyes, already figuring she’d be babysitting them at one point. “What about you?”

“I actually can’t wait to go to the Belgium Grand Prix, to be honest. I’m always for exploring different forms of racing, and I’ve never been to a Formula 1 event. I’m ready to get up close and personal for a change.” Chase then thinks things over, pondering some thoughts…

“Maybe we can get the chance for you to sit in a car.” Her eyes open wide immediately and Chase makes a mental note to get a hold of Jeff or maybe Tony to see if he could pull that favor off, too. “I said maybe…strong maybe. I mean, I don’t know them. It’s going to take some convincing…”

“Have I told you today that you’re perfect and amazing?” He just rolls his eyes as she kisses his lips. “I got to go qualify. We’ll get back to these plans later, okay?” He nods his head as she heads off. He could only smile seeing the hop in her step, knowing their conversation had been perfect.

Now they just needed the bubbly attitude to carry them through the night….

*********************

Chase cautiously walks back to the garage area, seeing Sarina climb out of the truck, throwing her gloves back in frustrated. She then takes her helmet off, setting it down lightly – she never threw that no matter her anger due to how she cherished it – before letting out a sigh. She grabbed the bottle of water left on the truck by Marcus, downing the entire bottle, before chucking it across the pit area.

The race had started out well as she had started fourth, running up front right there with Kyle and Christopher. However, near the end of the second stage, she suffered a pit road penalty – crew member over the wall too soon – which set her back in the field. She pushed as hard as she could to make up the lost ground, ending up 15th.

Chase cautiously walks over, slowly wrapping his arms around her, as he lays her head on her shoulder. If it had been anybody except him, he knew she would’ve snapped around and chopped their head off. But being that it was him, she actually laid back into his arms a little.

“You did what you had to do,” he starts. “It’s not your fault that you got the penalty. It’s not your fault that you finished where you did. You did what you needed to do, and that’s all you can ask as a driver.” She sighs, knowing that he was right – no matter how angry she was.

“How could they not get that they jumped over the wall too soon?” She questions as Chase had to shrug his shoulders. He remembered instantly cursing on the pit box when he heard the call.

“They’re always trying to get that advantage of being as quick as possible. The one guy just timed it a little wrong…” She wanted to scream, possibly snap the head off of that crew member, but she knew that wouldn’t solve anything.

“I so badly wanted to do well. I so badly wanted to be up there in the top-five. I so badly wanted to win…”

“I know, and you did exactly what you needed to do. It sucks, but that’s racing and shit happens. These guys have done a great job all year. I bet that crew member feels worse than you do right now. You guys have a couple more races – you can make the playoffs. Just take a deep breath, and put your best foot forward as you can do this.” He then kisses her cheek.

“Thank you…” He nods his head as he lets her go, letting her walk up into the hauler to change as he lets out a sigh.

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Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 128: Overton’s 150

Saturday, July 29

 

Sarina lays there, quietly, eyes locked on Chase as he lies beside her, sleeping away.

She had woken up a couple hours ago, grabbed some breakfast and a shower, before returning back to bed to lie beside him. She didn’t want to disturb him, knowing that he needed his sleep as the focus was put on him getting better.

Taking a deep breath, she couldn’t let everything that they’d been through escape her mind. Though despite everything, he put his full trust in her, promised to always love her, and would do anything for her. On top of that, he had convinced his parents to give her a second chance.

She couldn’t get it through her mind everything that he had done, for her. He stood up to everyone with her brother. He allowed Allison to inject the needle, instead of cheating. He always found the small time of day to reach out to her. Rather than be at home this weekend where he belonged after the week he’d been through, he was there with her instead.

Letting out a sigh, it was hard to believe this was happening before her. She never got this lucky in her life. It was always when one thing came together, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But yet, here she was, under contract with the top team in the truck garage and dating the sweetest guy ever. For the first time ever, it felt everything with happiness was just within reach.

“Can I help you?” His voice freezes her thoughts as she looks into his brown eyes.

“No, I’m good,” she replies as a smile forms on her lips.

“You’re just staring at me for no reason?” She nods her head. “How long have you been laying here like this?” She was almost afraid to offer her answer.

“An hour or so. You were sleeping, I didn’t want to disturb you, but I didn’t want to leave you.” She then reaches over, rubbing his shoulder. “Relax, it’s fin-”

“You were spaced out at first, though.” He then brushes her brown hair out of her face. “What’s on that mind of yours?”

“I am just thinking how lucky and spoiled I am to have an amazing guy like you in my life.” He then looks at her with surprise as he rolls over onto his back.

“I’m just an ordinary guy who happens to go fast for a living.” She then chuckles, causing him to look back her way. “What?”

“Ordinary guy? Have you been outside of your own little universe lately, Chase?” His eyes widen even more surprise.

“Listen, just because I may be a little fam-”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, Prince Charming.” He then freezes, caught off-guard by the comment. “I’m talking about how sweet you are. I’m talking about how caring you are. I’m talking about how you’d do anything for me. I’m talking about how we’ve been through everything, and yet you’re still here beside me 100% committed. I’m talking about how you stood up to Alison, for us. There are very few guys in the world that can equal that level of charm and sweetness, honey. I’m gonna say that you rank up there in the 5% range.” He then rolls his eyes.

“Listen, I’m nowhere near perfec-”

“I didn’t say you were, Chase. But you’re damn close to that – at least to me, and a lot closer than a lot of people.” He then rolls back on his side so he can look right into her green eyes.

“So you’ve been lying here for the past hour contemplating all that?” She nods her head. “Why?”

“I’ve never ever felt this right and perfect in a moment with someone. I’ve never felt this type of love before, or felt that I was wort-”

“Excuse me?” He then scoots closer to her, wrapping an arm around her as he pulls her close. “Don’t you ever dare say that you’re not worthy of being loved. Sure, you had a rough hand. Sure, you had things go off plan. If anything, it makes you worthy so you can feel what you’ve been missing all these years.” She then lets out a sigh.

“I’ve made a bunch of mistakes, thoug-”

“I’ve made mistakes, too. We all make mistakes every day. Do you want to know my response? Accept your mistakes, admit that you were wrong, and learn from it so you do not do it again. That’s why when you lied to me under those circumstances, I gave you the second chance with the understanding to not repeat that mistake. Sarina, you’re a beautiful young lady and there’s nobody that could tell me different in loving you.” He then leans in and kisses her lips, as she smiles back in response.

“How do you always know what to say?” He smiles as he takes her hand, placing it on his chest.

“I speak from the heart with every bit of honesty that I have. It’s okay to open up and be honest. It’s okay to be vulnerable, and it’s okay to express feelings.  It actually feels good.” She then smiles, nodding her head.

“I’ll make sure to give it a try then.” He then lets her go, sitting up in the bed as he glances at the clock.

“Don’t you have to qualify soon?” She then lets out a sigh, nodding her head. As much as she loved racing her truck, she wouldn’t mind lying around with Chase all day.

“Yep.” She then stands up, heading to the closet to grab her firesuit, as Chase gets up behind her. She then spins around, surprised.

“I am coming to watch you qualify, followed by seeing the guys before final practice. Then we can chill and wait till your race, which I am sitting on your pit box.” She was even more surprised by the assertion in his voice.

“Oh really? Are you sure you’re up to all that?” He nods his head as he pulls the drawer open, grabbing a pair of jeans. “Are you sure that your parents will let you do that?” He then glances over surprised.

“I’m an adult. I can do what I want…” She then rolls her eyes.

“Cindy is going to put up a fight…” He then pulls the jeans up, before walking over to her and stealing a kiss.

“Tough for her. I’ll be fine.” He then goes to find a shirt, as she focuses back on getting ready for the upcoming qualifying session.

*********************

Chase stood on pit road, satisfied with the session as he took a glance at the scoring pylon. A solid eighth-place starting spot was a good start as it was going to be a long race, with drama all the way around. As long as she played it cool, and Marcus was good with his adjustments, she’d be there at the end in contention to win.

After sharing a couple comments between them, he gave her a kiss and headed away. He knew that she had to talk for a bit about Marcus in regards to the session and their race strategy, so it was time to take advantage of the time that he had. There was a crew of guys who needed to see their driver for themselves as he made his way to the trailer.

He gives a wave to a couple other Hendrick Motorsports guys hanging around, before opening the door and heading inside.

“So we’re going with this set-up, followed by this one?” Josh questions as Alan nods his head. “Got it!”

“Does that mean we have lots of work to do between runs?” Jared Seate wonders as Chase crosses his arms, clearly not noticed by the guys with his entry.

“Oh Jared, you never want to do much work, huh?” Chase then joins in, catching a bunch of surprised glances.

“Chase!!” A couple of the crew guys let go, before tackling him with hugs.

“Easy guys….” Alan tries to calm them off with a laugh.

“You know that for you, I’ll always put in a full day’s work,” Jared then comments as Chase rolls his eyes.

“What am I? Chopped liver?” Justin Allgaier, who was filling in for Chase, questions as Chase laughs.

“Please tell me that you’re here to get rid of this little short ass.” Chase laughs once again as he glances between them. He knew the pair had a history together as Jared came over from JR Motorsports.

“Unfortunately, you’re stuck with him for the rest of the weekend,” Chase comments as Jared lets out a sigh. chase couldn’t help but agree with him as he wanted to be racing more than anything. But given how he was feeling earlier that morning and knowing that the feeling would probably come back, he knew he wasn’t ready for 400 miles tomorrow.

“You’re stuck with me, Jared!” Justin says as he pulls Jared close, causing a series of laughs through the trailer.

“So if you’re standing here, you can’t feeling that badly….” Jared Erspamer then joins in the conversation, catching Chase’s attention. “Of course, a little birdie told me that you’ve been here all weekend.”

“He’s kidding, right?” Jared Seate asks and Chase shakes his head no. “And you just came to see us now? How rude!”

“Did you watch Full House?” Alan questions as Jared smiles.

“Oh puhleeeeze, who didn’t watch that show?” Alan just rolls his eyes.

“For the record,  I didn’t even leave the motorcoach at all yesterday so you weren’t just left out for no reason,” Chase starts, catching their attention. “I didn’t want to stay home because I wanted to be here to support Sarina. That said, I did not feel up to moving at all yesterday. As it is, this tour here, followed by the truck race, will probably eat up whatever energy I have made up. But I knew I couldn’t go a whole weekend without seeing you guys.”

“He loves us!” Jared Seate lets out, now taking a turn wrapping his arms around Chase.

“I thought you already would’ve figured that out a long time ago….”

“To be honest, speaking on behalf of everybody here, there’s nothing that we could do to make up for what you did last weekend,” Alan starts as he focuses his eyes on Chase. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart and we all discussed that when Josh and I told everybody. You put your ass on the line for us. That’s more than we can say for a lot of people that we’ve worked together, and we thank you.” The rest of the crew guys nod their heads in agreement with the boss.

“Well, you guys are like family to me,” Chase replies. “I mean, we spend the whole year together on this traveling circus, getting close, getting to know each other and each other’s families. You guys sacrifice all this time in your lives so you can make us the best that we can be on Sundays – basically, to the point where most people just give me the credit. I’ve always said that I wouldn’t change a single thing about this team, and I meant that.”

“So we’re not going to get traded around ever and sent away when the playoffs start like some teams?” Jared Erspamer questions and Chase shakes his head.

“Never, ever,” he assures them. “For the record, we work as a team and we do everything together – come high or low water. If things go wrong, we all accept the blame, work to improve, and go forward. That’s how it’s always been, right?” The guys nod their head. “So for that reason, you better give it your 110% for Justin on Sunday, okay?”

“Yes boss!” The guys let out together as Chase makes his way to the front of the group, wrapping his arms around Alan and Josh.

“And to both of you, don’t ever change. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for help with my absolutely crazed plan and thanks for getting me the help when I needed it – twice, now. It really  means a lot to know how much you both care. And Alan, let’s not meet like that ever again.” Alan nods his head.

“I don’t want to repeat that, ever,” Alan assures him. “I love ya, buddy. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“You’re coming back next week though, right?” Jared Seate questions, as Chase looks over at him.

“Are you really trying to get rid of me that badly?” Justin asks as Jared shrugs his shoulders.

“There was a reason I was glad to be leaving JRM for Hendrick….” Justin looks on shocked as the guys let out a bunch of cheers and laughs.

“If everything goes according to plan, I will be back next weekend at Watkins Glen,” he assures Jared, who lets out a big yes.

“Can you please convince Dale that he should work with us both so I can torture him?” Justin asks as Chase laughs.

“Unfortunately, I can’t do that. He was the one that convinced Sarina to call me, so I ow-”

“Save me this weekend?” Jared interrupts as Chase rolls his eyes.

“You’re on your own, this time buddy,” Chase tells him. “Cash in your favor another week. I’ll see ya boys later.”

Chase then heads out of the hauler, a smile firmly planted on his face. He couldn’t wait until he was back in the saddle next weekend.

****************************************

Chase sits on the pit box, intently watching the action on track as he watches the laps count closer to the end of the event. Sarina had done a great job all day, running with the front runners, keeping herself in contention for a good finish, and possibly a win. Though taking a deep breath, he knew anything was possible on a late-race restart – good and bad.

“Oh shit!” He lets out as he watches the No. 18 truck go sliding up the track in turn one, hitting the outside wall. He watched them go into the corner with Chase Briscoe taking her and Kaz Grala three-wide. Briscoe then caught the corner of Kaz, which caused Kaz to hit her and send her up into the wall.

“I’m okay….” Sarina lets out immediately on the radio, using every ounce of energy to not start blasting both Briscoe and Grala over the radio.

“10-4,” Marcus replies. “You did an amazing job all day. Nothing you could do there. Just one of those deals. We’ll get them in a couple weeks.”

“Thanks for the amazing truck, boss.”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 125: “Did you see that?”

Sunday, July 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“Did you see that?” Jared Erspamer asks as he glances back from the car. “Did you see what the stall looks like? We were just standing there….” The other crew members glance around confused, as they continue pushing.

“Where’s Josh?” Jordan Allen questions, noticing the car chief was missing.

“He went with Chase and Alan,” Chad Avrit informs them. “Chase didn’t look good….” Jordan then stops pushing as they reach the hauler, looking back at the guys.

“You know, something didn’t seem right pre-race, either. I mean, he was quieter than normal and a glance in his eyes seemed off, too. Plus, Josh stayed by the car when normally it’s just myself and Chase.”

“Are you saying that Josh and Alan knew something was up?” Jordan shrugs his shoulders.

“Regardless, it just all seems odd – especially after that.”

“We’re just supposed to load up, right?” Jared Seate questions and Jordan nods his head, remembering Josh’s words. “Okay….” Jordan then goes to head inside the hauler, when he stops and glances back.

“This is even more odd,” he summarizes, catching the crew’s attention. “Why aren’t the engineers looking over the notes?” Jared shrugs his shoulders. “Guess they will at the shop. Alright, not my responsibility…” He then continues into the trailer, set to go upstairs and open the door.

“Jordan?” Jordan then stops and turns around. “Text message from the boss…” Jordan then walks back to Jared, taking his phone as he opens the message. He then shakes his head in disbelief.

“Of course….” He then types a message quickly, before looking over the guys. “Load up quickly, please. We got somewhe-”

“Poisoned again?” Jared Erspamer questions, having that fear based on his own experience prior. Jordan just nods his head before going back into the hauler. “Ah shit…”

“Why do I have a feeling that was meant for us truly?” Jared Seate asks as he glances back at the garage once again, thanking his lucky stars.

************************

The trip to the care center did not last long as they were immediately transferred to Methodist Hospital of Indiana. Alan and Josh could only feel their hearts pounding harder with worry.

Once at the hospital, the pair found themselves in a waiting room with six sets of eyes staring them down – Sarina and Chase’s parents. Alan takes a couple deep breath, and explained everything. He told them Chase’s original confession, followed by the plan, and followed by how things played out.

“I should’ve done something,” Sarina says quietly as she looks at the floor. “I knew something was off….”

“But you did nothing?” Cindy questions as she looks over. “Seriously, Sarina?”

“Cindy…” Bill warns as Cindy keeps her eyes focused on Sarina.

“I asked him if he was alright and he told me he was fine,” Sarina answers. “I asked him more than once, Cindy. It wasn’t like I just stood there and let this happen. I literally asked him last night, along with a couple times today. I thought maybe I was just off on radar, or something – I don’t know. Maybe I should’ve pus-”

“Oh now you think of that…” Cindy comments as she sits back in the seat.

“To be honest, I noticed something too,” Bill admits, causing Cindy to look his way. “And to be honest, I asked and he said he was a little sick. I suggested that he tells the guys, and have a stand-by driver. I just thought it was a stomach bug. I could’ve never predicted this.” Bill then looks straight at Cindy. “So before you chew up Sarina’s ass for no reason, think about that. Besides, that’s not what’s important right now…” Cindy then sits back in the chair, crossing her arms.

“I just can’t believe that we’re sitting in a hospital once again not even a month later and he’s fighting for everything that he’s got….” A stray tear falls down her face and she quickly wipes it away. “I just want my baby to be okay…” Bill wraps an arm around her, pulling her close.

“He will be, Cindy. No matter what…”

“Do you want anything?” Josh asks as he looks at Sarina and she shakes her head no.

“I just can’t believe this….” She comments with a sigh. “We knew shit was still possible with her and Bethany running around, but yet we let it happen. I should’ve went with him to qualifying.”

“It’s not your fault,” Alan assures her as he pats her shoulder. “To be honest, I screwed up, too, probably worse than any of you. I could see the symptoms right before me. I even suggested that we just throw the race totally and get him help. I should’ve done that. I should’ve never let him go through with this plan – no matter how clever Josh was in thinking it.”

“He’s right,” Josh adds. “I mean, there’s two hours there that we let it eat at him and make it worse. As they say, time is the most important in these situations – and we fucked up. We should’ve convinced him to tell the authorities, or to go about it another way.”

“Are the guys okay?” Bill wonders, having heard about the bomb going off.

“Everybody accounted for and safe. I had them moving away from there pushing the car to the trailer.” Josh then glances at the latest text from Jordan. “They’re curious already, by the way.”

“As expected,” Alan summarizes. “We’ll have to explain it to them and why we kept it a secret, even though it sounds so stupid now.” Alan then runs his hands through his thin hair, letting out a sigh. “I’m sorry Bill, Cindy, Sarina….”

“You did what you thought was right and what he’d allow you within the window he gave you,” Bill comments as he looks over at the crew chief. “Stop beating yourself up. It’s not going to help. Just focus on him. Focus on making sure he gets better.” Alan nods his head, knowing he wasn’t taking any more chances.

The group then glances up as they watch door open and see a female walk through, followed by calling over to them. She then takes a seat in the chair before the group, which could only add to the concerns that they were having. Alan knew that if the doctor was taking this careful measure entering, she’d have a lot to say and it wouldn’t be pretty.

“My name is Demetra Manning,” she states as she looks at each of the individuals. “I’m the toxicology expert for the hospital, and in charge of poison control. I can tell you everything that you need to know, and answer any questions that you may hav-”

“Just tell me how my son is!” Cindy snaps, just wanting an update as soon as possible.

“I understand that you guys have been in a situation like this before and actually, just a couple weeks ago.” Cindy rolls her eyes as she hated to hear the doctor spending time wasting energy on stuff they didn’t need to know this second. “I got a hold of Dr. Hanken in Daytona as we were looking over initial test results to discuss everything. We both confirmed that he was poisoned with the same substance, with it acting as a stronger stream due to the consistency, the fact that it was injected versus digested, and length of time in the body.”

“We should’ve said something….” Alan comments, feeling a bunch of regret in hearing how serious things had potentially come. It was a regret that he didn’t know if he could ever overcome, either.

“How much more serious?” Bill questions, feeling a tinge of worry himself now. Normally, it was Cindy’s job to panic and worry while he stayed calm – but that wasn’t happening.

“We’re not absolutely certain that he’ll fully recover, yet, or how long it will take him to wake up,” the doctor reveals, which pulled at every heart string for both Cindy and Sarina. “We immediat-”

“What do you mean by ‘wake up’?” Cindy interrupts. “Last time, they gave him a sedative to keep him asleep as his body fought it and he began to heal. Are you referring to that, or….” Dr. Manning takes a deep breath.

“Recall that he passed out on the way to the care center with Mr. Gustafson and Mr. Kirk. Well, he hasn’t woken up since then – and that’s what I am referring to. It may take him a couple hours, or it could be a couple of days. It just depends how the poison affected him.”

“But he will wake up, right?” Dr. Manning felt confident in nodding her head.

“As I started to say, we immediately started him on the antidotes and anti-epileptic medicine. He’s also on a ventilator like previously, too.” Cindy knew that shouldn’t affect her too much as she’d been here before, but she couldn’t help but cringe at those words. “We’ll wait to see when he wakes up and see where he is. If he’s really agitated, we’ll give him a sedative. If he’s not too bad, we’ll look towards the next steps – removing the ventilator, and checking everything over. Either way, it’s going to take a bit of time….”

“Can we go see him, though?” The doctor nods her head.

“I’d actually encourage that, as being surrounded by family and friends will help. Don’t be afraid to talk to him or amongst yourselves, either.”

The group then followed the doctor through the doors, down a short hall, before turning into a room. After a couple deep breaths trying to clear their nerves, Cindy and Sarina led the group into the room. They each took a seat in the first two chairs by the bed, putting their differences aside for the time being. Bill then sat back on the window sill, while Alan and Josh leaned against the wall.

One way or another – none of them were leaving the room until they knew he was okay.

“Kasey won…” Josh breaks the silence in the room that had fallen over a good 20 minutes.

“Really?” Alan asks as he looks over surprised and Josh just nods his head.

“Truex and Kyle wrecked racing for the lead and Kasey managed to get his ass to the front.” Alan shakes his head in disbelief.

“That’s great for Kasey, though. I know how frustrated he’s been.” Josh nods his head once again.

“We keep doing what we’re doing, and Dale manages to snag a win, we may actually get all four cars in the playoffs after all.” Alan could only hope that as he knew how much the guys would like that in the shop. After all, he had seen the frustration with how they’d all run lately.

“How can you think of playoffs at a time like this?” Sarina questions, catching the crew members off-guard.

“Casual conversation and hope for the future – just like the doctor recommended,” Alan summarizes.

“All I can think about is how much pain he’s in and how hard he is fighting…” Alan walks a couple steps forward, rubbing her shoulders.

“Listen, that’s certainly on my mind – bigger than Kasey’s win or anything Josh and I are talking about. Chase’s well-being is the most important thing that I can think of, so you don’t need to question that. We’re just trying to lightly pass the time so we can get to that point he is okay. Besides, you know he’ll be asking what happened and wanting to be in those playoffs.” Sarina sighs, nodding her head. It still didn’t feel right to talk about it all, though.

“Oh shit!” Josh lets out as he grabs his phone off the window sill, causing the entire room to glance over surprised.

“What?” Alan questions as he walks back over to the car chief. “Encumbered finish?”

“Don’t mention those dreadful words – but this is worse. Kasey is feeling crampy, almost dehydrated…but remember before the race in the driver’s mee-”

“Text Kenny right away!” Bill’s eyes then open in surprise as he hears the panic in Alan’s voice. “Kasey sipped from Chase’s water bottle because he was so thirsty. Chase tried to shrug him off from doing it, but couldn’t convince before he did.” Bill rolls his eyes.

“Of course…” He says as he glances over at Chase, feeling his heart break in seeing all the tubes and how he just laid there motionless.

******************

Kasey makes his way down the hall, stopping as he reaches the door and glances in. Alan immediately notices him, excusing himself from the room as he goes out to the hall. It had been four hours since the aforementioned text had been sent.

“Nothing from him?” Kasey questions and Alan shakes his head no.

“Not a single movement,” Alan answers as he leans back against the wall, crossing his arms. “Dr. Manning says that could be a good thing, as his body is conserving energy to fight off everything. But she also warned that not waking up in the first 24 hours could be a sign of brain damage or something serious.” Kasey shakes his head in disbelief.

“Well then he better wake up….”

“How are you, though?” Kasey could only shrug his shoulders. It’d be a whirlwind from victory lane to kissing the bricks, to the infield care center and to the hospital.

“I didn’t get a lot in my system, thankfully. Dr. Manning gave me the same antidote that Chase is taking, and it’s starting to work. I’m about 80% right now, and she says I should be back to myself in the next couple of days.” Alan could only let out a sigh of relief.

“That’s good.” Alan then glances back towards the room, before looking at Kasey. “I’m glad you’re not in the same shoes as him. I mean, he shouldn’t be there, either. If he would’ve said something sooner, then he could be like you. If I would’ve convinced him to say something sooner, or I would’ve just done it myself, then we wouldn’t be here this serious. I can’t believe I didn’t say something. I can’t believe I didn’t go against everything. Why did I just sit there this morning and let him convince me about this absurd plan of Josh’s?” Kasey shrugs his shoulders, having not been there to see everything.

“You can’t beat yourself up over it, Alan. We all make mistakes. Heck, I’ve made some myself. It doesn’t help. You just got to focus on getting him bet-”

“Every time I look at him lying there, though, it’s a reminder. It’s a reminder that time is precious and I was an idiot for not remembering that. I mean, what kind of crew chief am I if let my driver get into this positio-”

“Alan, it’s not your faul-”

“But it is, Kahne! We’ve been here before! Damn it!” Kasey could hear the anger laced in Alan’s voice, knowing it wasn’t directed at him, but rather the situation. “I should’ve done something…” A couple tears fall as Kasey immediately reaches out, pulling Alan into a hug, rubbing his back. “I should’ve….”

“He’s going to be okay, Alan. It’s going to be okay…”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 124: Brickyard 400

Sunday, July 23 – Indianapolis

Chase lets out a yawn as he makes his way through the infield, knowing that he had a pre-race meeting with the guys.

He admittedly hadn’t slept well last night, tossing and turning and worrying about everything. He even began to wonder if maybe there was nothing in what she injected – and it was just done to scare him more than anything.

Though beginning to feel a little sick in the morning, he knew that was a lie. It wasn’t terrible – sort of reminded him of how you feel with the 24 hour stomach flu. He felt a little nauseous, but other than that he was fine. Saying his own prayers in his mind, the day would be over soon and they could get to the bottom of it.

He makes his way into the trailer, taking his usual position amongst the guys, paying attention as Alan goes over the notes for the day. He then chimed in with his own ‘pick me up comments,’ and the team felt more than confident in the day ahead.

With the meeting done, he headed out of the trailer, knowing he had to go see some sponsor VIPs, and then he would have a couple hours for himself. Maybe he could get some sleep, or perhaps stomach at least some soup.

“Hey, are you feeling okay?” His dad asks as they head to the last appearance. With how it’d been set-up, the pair was supposed to attend together and do a quick Q&A with the guests.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Chase answers quickly, hoping to finish up this string of events quicker than ever so he didn’t have to deal with questions like this. Bill, meanwhile, had his eyes locked on Chase, knowing that his comment was an immediate lie. If there was one thing, he could never tell a lie, ever.

“Chase….” Chase then lets out a sigh, debating which way to go with his excuse.

“Alright, I’m feeling a little sick. I think I picked up the bug that was going around – one of the other crew guys had it. I’m fine.” Bill then looked at him with raised eyebrows, but figured he could trust him. Besides, Cindy could handle strangling him later.

“Just be careful and make sure to tell Alan incase, okay?” Chase nods his head.

While he hadn’t planned to say anything to Alan and didn’t really want to have a back-up driver – someone else involved in this chaos, it did give him another idea though. Maybe there was a way out of this quicker, after all.

Once he was done the series appearances, he made his way back to the team trailer. He knew that Alan and Josh would be there going over some final notes of the day with the car having gone through pre-race tech inspection already. He just needed to find the courage to tell them.

“You’re back here?” Josh questions as he sees the door to the lounge open up.

“Yeah,” Chase answers as he closes it behind him. “I needed to talk to you both before the race. It’s important…” Josh and Alan glance at each other a little confused, before setting their eyes back on their driver.

“I’m all ears,” Alan says as he sets his notes aside. He knew if Chase was interrupting them, it was important.

Taking a shaky breath, Chase went into detail of the series of events over the past week involving Allison. He told them about what happened at the beauty pageant. He told them about the photo getting sent to Sarina and how that broke down. He then told them what happened yesterday in the garage area, which caused both of their jaws to drop.

“I’m starting to feel some symptoms – very minor at that, though,” he reveals, bringing an even bigger shock to Alan’s face. “Feeling a little sick, a little clammy – but nothing that I can’t handle. I figure I’d let you know so we can do something post-rac-”

“There’s no way you’re racing toda-” Alan starts.

“Alan, we have no choice. If we go say something, then that bomb goes off. Do you know how many people are around there right now?” Alan lets out a sigh, nodding his head. “And sure, you could tell the cops and the bomb squad and whoever you want. But if she gets word that someone knows, she won’t take any chances.”

“So you’re just going to let this crap eat at you, while trying to race 400 miles today?” Chase sits down, knowing that was the only option that they were left with. He just figured the team knowing would be a good step for after the race.

“Alan, I know we’re trying to point our way into the playoffs, but could we just give up this one?” Josh questions, causing a shocked expression from Chase immediately.

“That’ll clue her in righ-” Chase starts as Josh shakes his head no.

“Not if we do this how I am thinking, Chase.” Chase then looks at him puzzled.

“He’s not wrecking the car purposely at the start for that reason,” Alan states, beginning to read the car chief’s mind.

“Does anybody not have a clue to what I am thinking?” Josh questions as he had to laugh at their responses. “Of course, I wouldn’t want him to do that because what if he gets hurt? I’m not stupid, Alan. Remember – you hired me.” Chase had to chuckle at the response as Alan rolls his eyes. “But what if we had an engine failure?” Chase and Alan glance at each other, before turning their eyes back to Josh.

“I’d be fully willing to give up today as someone’s health and safety is more important…” Josh then pulls up his laptop, opening some of the engineering numbers.

“Dale has blown a couple motors this year, and we have past data from other years. I can construct the perfect formula in steps for Chase to follow to make that motor blow up in the first 50 laps.” Chase then looks on surprised.

“That easy?” He questions and Josh nods his head.

“Certain missed shift on the start, certain missed shift on a possible restart afterwards, and hitting certain revs would cause it to go big time,” Josh reveals as he looks over the numbers. “Of course, you’ll have the engineers and engine tuners willing to kill yo-”

“Wrong choice of wording!” Alan yells as Josh freezes.

“Right, sorry.” He then goes back to his notes. “But I mean, I’d rather deal with them on your ass then something else.” Chase couldn’t help but admit that the car chief was pretty smart after all.

“Give those numbers, please…” Josh then sorts through everything, jotting some numbers and notes on a piece of paper, before handing it over to Chase. “After it goes and we’re don-”

“Clearing the garage area immediately, telling the guys to load up and not even bother reviewing,” Alan cuts him off, reading his mind. “We’ll have it sorted out. You just focus on coming back to the garage, getting out, and going to get help.” Chase nods his head as he takes a couple deep breaths. “Chase?”

“I’m fine,” he tells them as he stands up, snatching the piece of paper off the table. “By the way, Sarina doesn’t know. Someone will have to tell her.” Alan nods his head, knowing that would be on his conscious.

For the rest of the morning before the race, things went like normal and Chase found himself standing on pit road, counting down the minutes. He glanced around, silently telling him what he had read off the paper 50 different times over and over in his head, just hoping that it’d work out as smooth as Josh said it would.

“Ahh, my favorite people,” Chase hears, as he glances over and sees Ryan walking over with a box. He would rather just be left alone, but he knew that’d be too suspicious.

“And how’s Ryan?” Chase questions as Ryan just smiles in response.

“Ready to go and have a great day.” He then looks over at Sarina. “My team had a couple extra donuts so I thought I’d bring you a snack.” Sarina then looks at him, surprised.

“Any specific occasion?” She wonders and Ryan shakes his head no. “Well, everybody knows I love a good Krispy Kreme donut…” Ryan smiles as she takes the box from him.

“I’m good,” Chase comments as Sarina holds the box out to him first. He had already heard about the contents, but also knew that it’d turn his stomach once again and he may actually throw-up this time.

“Suit yourself…” She then opens the box, and her smile immediately disappears as she sees a mix of raw cabbage and broccoli, shaped into little donuts. Ryan began laughing immediately as she looked at him. “Really?”

“Nice job on the ringtone,” he tells her with before turning on his heels and walking away. She then takes one of the pieces of broccoli, chucking it down pit road at him, causing him to spin around in surprise. “Now, now Ms. Ott, you shouldn’t be throwing things on pit road. That’s against the rules.”

“This is cruel!” She replies as he only laughs harder. Chase just shakes his head between them, knowing that this was probably just the start of what was to come. They seemed to have a good knack now for pranking each other. “Did you see what he di-”

“It’s a good prank,” Chase cuts her off as he leans back against the car. If he had to be honest, the heat was getting to him a little, combined with the sickness increasing. He could only hope the plan that Josh had in place worked real quickly as there was no way he could do 400 miles feeling like this. Maybe he should’ve taken the back-up driver approach, instead.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Chase nods his head. “I mean, I’m still saying something is off….” He then looks over at her, giving her a small smile.

“Just ready to get this started. I would’ve preferred to be in the car by now….”

It wasn’t long until opening ceremonies kicked off, followed by Chase climbing in the car. Josh had stayed there to make sure he was buckled in, and go through everything once again. As he put up the window net, Josh had to resist the urge to yell something there as he could see it in Chase’s eyes that things were getting worse. However, he followed normal protocol, before retreating back to the pit box.

Chase went through pace laps as if nothing was different – though felt everything wrong in that moment. He felt sicker to his stomach, felt clammy, felt a headache coming on, and knew what was coming if they didn’t get through this sooner than later.

On the drop of the green flag, he remembered what Josh said – skip from gear 2 to gear 4 by accident, letting the motor hit the higher revs as that’ll damage some inner components. He could only curse what he was doing, knowing it’d just increase everybody’s discussions about him doing crap on restarts.

He pushed like usual, keeping himself in solid contention, though silently wishing that it would go sooner than anticipated. He knew the caution at Lap 11 and restart six laps later would help his cause, too, as he went through another of the messed up processes.

“Something is off here,” he reports afterwards, starting to feel the beginning of the valve train giving up. Obviously, Josh’s numbers were right on target.

“10-4,” Alan replies, giving the car chief a nod on the pit box. “Just keep an eye on it.” Alan knew that they should actually look at it under the next possible caution, but knew that’d go against the plan in place.

They got another caution, and another fumble through the gears to hit different RPM numbers began to work its magic, with things getting even more off basis.

“Next caution, we’ll take a look,” Alan states, following protocol of cover-up as he glances at Josh. It was only a matter time now.

“It’s flashing these codes,” Chase alerts them as Josh smiles, knowing that the process had worked perfectly. He knew those were the error codes of the fuel pump.

“Read them off…” Chase bit his tongue as that’d be tougher than imagined. He was already having a hard enough time ignoring how he was feeling, concentrating on racing, and following the necessary steps in place. Now he had to read a series of numbers off the dashboard?

He began to read the first set of numbers as Josh compared them to other notes, seeing as though they were following the error process that he wanted. Sure enough, it came together with smoke begin to come out the back of the No. 24 on Lap 43.

“Bring it in,” Alan states as he immediately closes up his notebook. “Guys, to the trailer and load it up. We’re done.” He glances at Josh, remembering that crucial step as Josh nods his head in response.

“You take Chase as Sarina will follow,” Josh whispers once they’re down off the pit box. “I’ll make sure all the guys are there. Alert the guys if you need them – I’ll make sure everywhere else is clear….” Alan nods his head as they began the quiet walk through the garage area.

They turn the corner and see the car sitting by the garage stall, causing both of the crew members to look at each other confused. They then walk a little faster, with the rest of the team in toe.

“She wouldn’t roll the rest of the way,” Chase says quietly as he leans back against the car after climbing out.

“It’s fine,” Alan assures him as he wraps an arm around his shoulders. “We got this regardless.” Chase nods his head as he lets out an aggravated sigh. “Talk to me…”

“I feel like shit. I never should’ve let her do that. I never should’ve let gone along with this. I should’ve said something sooner, did something different. I shouldn’t even started that race.” He then pauses, taking a careful deep breath. “I feel like total shit, Alan. I feel like I’m going to throw up, I feel so clammy but sweaty and hot, headache, fever, and can barely move…”

“I knew something was up….” Sarina says as she crosses her arms.

“We’ll explain later,” Josh tells her as he glances between Chase, Alan and the crew.

“Come on, I got you…” Alan forces Chase to lean against him, leading him away from the car as he takes a glance at Josh.

“Guys, let’s push it to the trailer…” Josh instructs, rallying all the guys.

The guys begin to follow the instruction, pushing the car through the garage with confused glances at each other as they each take turns in seeing what direction Alan headed with Chase. Josh had headed that way, showing up on Chase’s other side, before another look towards Alan. They had only one destination in mind.

As everybody heads in different directions, they hear a big boom behind them, causing the whole crew to freeze and look back to the stall that they were just standing in a couple minutes ago in shock.

“The guys…” Chase says as he leans against Alan through their walk.

“I got them out of there, heading to the hauler with the car,” Josh assures Chase.

“Do I want to know?” Sarina questions and Josh shakes his head no.

“Like I said – we’ll explain later….” Sarina could only fear in finding out the truth of what was going on, with thoughts of Allison, her brother and Bethany floating through her brain. Why did this keep happening? She had done it again to him, and now the guys, too….

“Just focus on continuing to go forward, and focus on yourself,” Alan tells him. “Keep walking, keep moving forward, and keep fighting. We’re almost there…”

“I’m trying…” Chase says his legs give out a little, which causes Alan and Josh to grab him a firmer grip. “I can’t…” They then go give out again.

“Chase!” Alan tightens his grip even more, if he could, before feeling the young man fall against him. “I got you, I got you buddy….”

“Hold his shoulders and head,” Josh instructs as he picks the lower half up. The pair then continue moving as quickly as they can, shuffling into the care center. “We need help – ASAP!”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 67: The Test

Alyssa lets out a sigh as she sits on a bench in the infield.

They had arrived at the track about 10 minutes ago with sets sight on the day. The plan was for Jimmie to shake the car down, and make sure it had a decent set-up in it. Chase would then afterwards take his turn behind the wheel, set to do a series of laps to see where his comfort level was mentally and physically.

Alyssa couldn’t help but smile at the possibility of Chase returning to racing. It was a step in the right direction and a step towards forgetting what had happened previously. Though she couldn’t help but admit the nerves that were eating at her, wondering how the day would go.

“Where’s Prince Charming?” Alyssa hears, catching her attention as her mom walks over. She points over to pit road, where Chase stood beside Alan and Josh, watching Jimmie intently. “But yet you’re back here?”

“I’m giving him and his team space to do what they need to do,” Alyssa comments. “It’s all about comfort for him right now. I want to do what it takes to make him most comfortable. If that involves giving him space to be with his guys before he goes out, then sure. If that involves being there with him while he gets changed and then strapped in, I will do it. He was there for me, so I’m repaying the favor.”

“I wouldn’t expect otherwise.” Alyssa smiles as she watches her mom sit down beside her. Normally, she’d turn to her dad and others in her life for advice. Though pondering back, maybe this was the right question for her mom.

“What was it like for you when Dad went back racing after his break?” Marie then glances at her daughter. “Like, what were you feeling? Nerves? Confidence?” Marie then crosses her arms, remembering the tirade of thoughts she had. She wasn’t sure she wanted to answer the question.

“Why do you ask, to begin with?” Alyssa lets out a sigh, knowing the answer right then and there. No wonder she was a mess herself right now.

“Curious, I suppose…” Alyssa felt that if her mom wasn’t going to share, why put the energy forth herself?

“I remember after we got back from Pitronia the first time, when he found me after I was presumed dead. I remember the fear that we went through in thinking that we’d lost each other forever. Him thinking I was killed in a car crash when I was kidnapped, while I thought Mariella had killed him in a plane.” Alyssa lets out a shiver as she couldn’t shake the nerves in hearing that name or plane together in the same sentence. “I was a mess, actually. I was royal mess. You can ask Steve, because I went into Daytona that year with emotions all over the place.”

“That’s a shock….” Marie chuckles, having grown used to her daughters thinking that she was made of stone and perfectly strong.

“I was so nervous that something would happen and I would lose him. I was nervous of a wreck that would end everything. I remember he got caught up in a wreck in the Shootout and I literally freaked, froze like a statue sitting on his pit box. It took Steve’s careful words of wisdom and calming to really bring myself out of it. Then when I explained everything, I began to realize why – I was afraid. Fear can sometimes be a good thing because it shows you how much you care. Do you get that?” Alyssa nods her head.

“The only reason why I may feel fearful for someone, or something, is because I care so much about them that I want the best.” Marie smiles, glad that her daughter was smart like her.

“Steve convinced me to talk to your dad about it. Needless to say, it was a long conversation and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it in the end. Hearing his reasons, hearing why he thought I shouldn’t worry, and why it was going to be okay, it gave me some comfort. That allowed every bit of emotion that I was feeling to ease away, step by step, and eventually, as the weekend progressed, I handled things better to where I was back to super wife again.” Alyssa smiles as she glances back out towards Chase. She could only hope to get there herself.

“I feel a tinge of worry for Chase, just because of everything he’s been through. I worry about those emotional rampages of his, and I worry about him lashing out at the wrong time. I worry about him rushing it too, as he warned me so of doing. I worry about his anxiety and whether he can truly overcome that. I worry about him being in the midst of a pack.” Alyssa looks over at her. “I guess that means I’m normal, right?”

“Of course sweetheart, because we said – we only fear because we care so much. You care about him so much that you’re shedding every single fear that you can have over the situation. Now, can I give you the LeTarte advice?” Alyssa sighs.

“I wish that’d be the easiest thing to do, and knowing Chase, he’d know exactly what to say to me to make me feel better and ease away my concerns. But, I can’t bring myself to mention a single word to him. What if in inflict more fear on him than he has? What I trigger something? What if he’s trying to manage it and I push the wrong button? I don’t want to be the cause of a problem.” Marie nods her head, understanding that. However, she could only think back to her own experience.

“Chase has freaked at you before, though, and assured you it was out of character. What else did he say to make that easier?” Alyssa closes her eyes as she thinks back to the kitchen.

“Know that I don’t mean it against you and I’m just frustrated with the situation. Know that I could never be mad at you or angry. But also know that you can come to me no matter what.” Marie smiles as she wraps an arm around her daughter.

“Why don’t you go with those words and speak with him, then?” Alyssa wished she could just do that, but shaking her head, that wasn’t so.

“It’s not the same….”

“But I bet it’d be therapy for you both. Besides, it’s better that he faces those situations here in the privacy of our group, rather than his first race back at the track. Hence why this is a test. Why not test everything?” Alyssa knew that her mom was right as she could only imagine the reaction from everybody if they saw one of those instances, and could only imagine also what Chase would do afterwards.

Taking a deep breath and another glance towards him, she knew she had to speak her mind sooner than later.

The No. 9 car then comes down pit road, stopping in the pit box before the three crew members. Jimmie climbs out, smile planted on his face as he takes the helmet off.

“How was that?” He questions, looking up at Alan, who could only smile back.

“Run that lap in October and we have ourselves a new track record,” Alan answers as Jimmie couldn’t help but let out a small cheer. It was nice to know he still had the ability to get the job done.

“She’s handling very well. I honestly don’t think we can get any better. Just make sure you watch down in 3 as it’s a little slick – nothing new though, right?” Chase simply nods his head as he watches Jimmie walk away.

“Don’t let the track record, lap time comment lay in your mind. Just focus on getting in there, getting in your zone, and finding that comfort level. That’s all we’re here to do today. We’ll focus on getting the speed and what we need moving forward.”

“I know,” Chase comments quietly as he hops down off the wall. He takes a glance in the car, taking a couple deep breathes, debating once again. There was only one way to shut his mind up, though, as he glanced back up at the crew. “I’m going to go get changed.” He then walks off pit road as Alan turns around, watching him walk away closely.

“What do you think, chief?” Josh questions, catching Alan’s attention.

“He’ll be fine once he gets himself in the car,” Alan answers. “It’s just battling those other thoughts of his first.”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 66: Richmond

Chase takes a deep breath as he walks through the pits at Richmond Raceway garage.

He felt his nerves cringe at times in seeing the crowds of fans throughout, but a couple calming deep breathes and he found himself some common ground.

“The past will not repeat itself,” he tells himself quietly. “That was just a weird coincidence of events, thanks to one person. You know that. You know the game that he played. Don’t let him control your life and feelings.”

He then takes a pause, glancing around, continuing to remind himself of that fact as he takes a couple deep breathes, before continuing his walk through the garage.

Originally going into the weekend, he was set to stay focused on Alyssa solely. However, with the test scheduled on Sunday, he knew checking in with his guys to see how things were going was very well worth it for everyone’s sanity. He had been impressed with how Jimmie Johnson had performed during his time out of the seat, as it was like eight-time hadn’t missed a beat despite the time off.

“Must be all the triathlons he’s been doing,” Chase mused to himself one day.

He makes his way into the garage, receiving a couple surprised glances from the various crew members as they hadn’t expected an appearance.

“I thought you were too busy with the girl to care about us,” Alan comments as Chase immediately laughs.

“I always got time for my guys,” he replies, before giving the crew chief a hug. “It’s nice to see you.” Alan then takes a step back, giving Chase a glance over.

“Jeff mentioned something about having the intermediate car ready for Sunday to test at Charlotte for you. I thought he was crazy, but I’m beginning to think otherwise looking at you. Are you sure you’re ready?” Chase nods his head.

“Like I told him, one by one I am figuring things out so I believe this is the next step. I mean, I made my way over here all by myself. I wasn’t able to do that just two weeks ago.” Alan nods his head, having heard the story of what happened at Bristol.

“That’s certainly progress….”

“It’s just constantly giving myself little reminders in moving forward, and knowing that Randy’s games are over. He can’t hurt me no more and the game that he played has no more turns left. As long as I remind myself of that, look forward and not back at him, then I feel good.” Alan couldn’t help but smile at the revelation.

“And obviously, that’s helping the anxiety and fear, right?” Alan hated to bring up a negative, but the mention from Jeff that Chase was on a mild drug couldn’t leave his mind. There was a reason for that…

“Absolutely. I don’t think it’s absolutely gone, nor am I ready to do it all alone, but I’m closer with that thought.” Alan smiles as he wraps an arm around Chase.

“That’s great. I am absolutely happy for you.” Alan then stops and looks into his eyes. “Just make sure you’re doing this right and not repeating your past mistakes.” Chase rolls his eyes as he lets out a sigh.

“Jeff said the same thing…”

“It’s only because we care, and don’t want to do that again. You remember how sick you got at Charlotte. You remember how you drove yourself away from everybody. We don’t need that again. You don’t need that again, and Alyssa certainly doesn’t.” Chase knew that, and always reminded himself of that on a constant basis if he felt like running.

“Trust me – I know. I can promise you that I’m not doing that again, okay?” Alan nods his head, believing him.

“I’m just glad to have you back, man. I can’t wait for Sunday.” Chase then looks over as Jimmie is discussing something with the crew members.

“Think he’s ready to give me back the seat, though?” Alan chuckles as he looks over at him.

“I don’t know about that, but I also know he’s missing the time spending the kids, too. He’s in that parent mode where he can’t believe the kids are all grown up.” Chase nods his head in agreement.

****************************

Later on that night, Chase stood on pit road, waiting for opening ceremonies to begin as he watched Alyssa do a series of interviews. Taking a deep breath, he knew if things came together, this would be the calmest weekend they’d have at the track for awhile.

“What’s this I hear about you making a return?” He hears and turns immediately to the source.

“Ssssh!” He demands quickly as he walks over to his mom. “We don’t want everybody knowing…” Cindy then crosses her arms.

“I’m your mother. Don’t I deserve to know?” Chase nods his head as he lets out a sigh.

“Jeff wasn’t sure if it was 100% set till about a couple hours ago after we got done talking with NASCAR. I was going to tell you sometime tomorrow so you and Dad knew. I don’t keep secrets…” Cindy remains there with her arms crossed.

“And are we sure about this?” Chase rolls his eyes as he glances away.

“Been through with Jeff, been through with Alan – and now you too?” She then taps his shoulder to get his attention.

“I’m your mother. My opinion comes over theirs and an explanation is due to me more than them.” He couldn’t argue with that, unfortunately.

“I feel that I am ready. I don’t want to stand here and discuss this all day – but let’s say I’ve found common ground, feel this is the next step, and won’t get lost in continuing to make progress even if it goes well. Is that satisfactory?” Cindy nods her head.

“Next time, let me find out from you and not from your crew, got it?” Chase nods his head. “And I wish you the best of luck. You know, I love you and support you no matter what. Do what’s best for you, and only what’s best for you. Don’t try and do stuff just to make everyone happy.”

“Yes ma’am.” As she headed away, he knew what she spoke of as he glanced back at Alyssa.

Everybody wanted to see him back racing and everybody wanted to see everything back like it was before, as if nothing had happened. The fans, the sponsors, and their friends, family – it was just better feeling that way. He knew he couldn’t let the pressure from everyone on the outside push him sooner than he should.

As he takes a deep breath, he wonders if he’s truly for what’s to come on Sunday and beyond.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 116: Kentucky

Saturday, July 8

Chase rolls over, glancing over at Sarina with a smile, as he notices the blank stare on her face glancing up at the ceiling.

With it being a night racing and focused on keeping himself as strong as he could, he had chosen to nap throughout the afternoon prior to the warranted appearances, driver’s meeting, and race. Sarina, being the supportive girlfriend she was, agreed to not leave his side. She would either play on her phone, or read a book, or nap as well.

Though waking up this time around, Chase could only think about the blank stare.

“Talk to me….” He finally comments, catching her attention as she looks over.

“I didn’t realize you were awak-” She starts as he brushes the hair out of her face.

“Talk to me…” She then lets out a sigh.

“Chase…” He shakes his head immediately.

“You’ve got something on your min-”

“You have a race tonight and so much other stuff to focu-”

“Right now, my focus is on you. You were thinking about something, so talk to me, please.” She lets out a sigh as she knew she wasn’t getting out of this.

“I still can’t believe what my brother did. I’ve known him my whole life. I remember the sweet little boy he was as we were growing up. I remember the fun times we had together, like the family vacation to Disney World. I remember the jokes, the Christmases, and how wonderful he was. He was like a sparkling bud, if you will. Then I look back at the past couple of months, and see how he could just go and poison people with no regard for their life, their friends and family, or their future. Where’d that by go that I once knew?” Chase knew these feelings were eventually coming for Sarina, as he recalled her reactions from hearing the news, to the arrest, to the finding of evidence. He was just glad that she was opening up to him, again.

“I don’t know, Sarina. They say sometimes people change because of what happens in their life, or just because that’s who they are. He obviously did. Why, though? I don’t know.” Sarina knew exactly why as her eyes remained locked on the ceiling.

“He got caught up with the wrong crowd. He wasn’t a popular kid at school, but destined for that. He wanted to be ‘wanted’ and ‘popular.’ He didn’t get that with the good people – I don’t know why not. But yet here was this other group that offered him everything he wanted, as long as he followed certain rules and orders. He was strong, so making him the hunchman and go-getter was perfect. People would hand over their orders because they knew he could kick their ass. He also got joy from the time he tried it because it gave him that feeling he was missing.” Chase laid there listening intently, intrigued by what she was saying. It was interesting to hear the reasoning behind it all.

“So when you guys realized whose these people were, did you try and get him out?” Sarina nods her head.

“My parents did everything that they could in their power. They grounded him – which just made him rebel more. They tried to show him and convince him, but nothing got through to him. It also didn’t help that he was mad that my father wasn’t always there. His work kept him constantly busy, always going from call to call, worrying about some investigation. it was like he was lacking the attention at home. It didn’t bother me because heck, I had a go-kart and other stuff to focus on.” Chase chuckles, knowing how that could be.

“See, my parents were busy with my father’s racing, but I never felt left out. They took me to all the races, included me in everything, and there was never a question of whether they loved me. Heck, I think my mom babied me too much at times.” She chuckles, knowing that Cindy was still like that in some ways.

“I can’t fault my parents – they did what they could. I think it was just the fact that he dealt the wrong life for his doing, and couldn’t handle it – so this was his escape. That’s why at first we thought it was mental related, caused by all this chaos because it’s still so hard to say he’s the same boy as that little brother I know.” Chase nods his head, understanding.

“You’ve told me what they did, and you told me what happened that night. I know what happened now hurts even more, too. But realize this – it’s not your fault, and like you said, all of you did what you could. All you can do is remember the good times that you had as a family, know your father is always watching over you, and perhaps pray that one day when your brother is released, he’ll finally clue in.” She smiles a little as she looks over at him.

“Do you honestly think that’s possible down the road?” Chase nods his head.

“There’s always talk of people having a change for the better, so I’m not going to totally give up hope. I just feel that, for now, this is the best move for him so he can maybe learn.” Sarina knew that jail didn’t sound like a rightful spot, but she also knew Chase was right. “You should also know that no matter what you believe, I’ll always be by your side. I love you, and I’ll never leave you. You’re never alone…” He then leans over and kisses her lips.

“How did I get spoiled with you?” He shrugs his shoulders. “But thank you, thank you….” She then grabs onto his hand, holding it tightly. “There’s moments where I feel more lost than ever right now with everything. But knowing that I have you, Kyle, Samantha, my team, my truck, and damn well you again, it makes me believe. It makes me want to keep fighting that fight for what I have.”

“So you’re never, ever going to run away again?” She shakes her head no. “I like the sounds of that.”

“That doesn’t mean you get off easy for running away from me this coming week…” Chase lets out a sigh as he flops back on his back, knowing what was coming up. He had thought about canceling the appearance, or at least seeing if he could, with everything that happened and the fact that he was supposed to be focused on getting himself back to 100%. However, he knew how much these events meant to the sponsors and knew he could handle it – so he was set to go through it. Here’s to having fun judging a beauty pageant all week for Hooters.

“Trust me, I wish I could be spending the week with you in North Carolina and being at the shop with the guys.” She then looks at him surprised.

“And not look at beautiful girls dressed in bikinis, trying to impress you, so they can be Ms. Hooters for a year?” Chase shakes his head no.

“Not one of them will ever compare to the beauty that lies before me right now, inside and out.” He then leans in and kisses her lips once again.

“You’re just sucking up to me…” He then chuckles.

“The smile on your face says that you’re okay with it.” She then smiles even wider.

“Promise to call me every night?” He nods his head.

“I can tell you about the prettiest girls I have seen…” She then rolls her eyes. “Oh, and I can tell you about the pick-up lines that they’ll be trying to use.”

“That may not be a good idea. I may come to Las Vegas and lay down an ass kicking.” Chase chuckles.

“I wouldn’t mind that, actually.”

**************************************

Chase climbs out of the car, leaning back against it as he lets out a long sigh.

“Are you okay?” Alan questions as he hands him a bottle of Gatorade. Chase immediately loosens the cap, taking a big swig as he nods his head. “Are you sure?” Chase just nods his head, again.

It had been a long night with ups-and-downs throughout the race. However, he had run up front all race long and eventually crossed the finish line in third. He knew if he could’ve gotten one or two better restarts, it may have been a different story. However, that didn’t matter to him at that point. He was ready to take the top-five and run away with how he was feeling. Who knew driving a racecar for 400 miles could be so physically draining.

“I got Greg, incase….” Jared Seate comments as Greg Morin walks over, giving Chase a quick glance over.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Greg asks and Chase once again nods his head. “Not cramping up at all? No overwhelming thirst?” Chase shakes his head no.

“Just a little tired and maybe slightly dehydrated,” Chase comments as he lets out a yawn. “They told me it was possible with everything. But I’m fine. I’ll just make sure to drink a little more tonight, get some extra sleep, and I’ll be good by morning. I’m feeling better than I thought I would.” Greg nods his head, as he keeps his eyes focused on the young man.

“If by any chance you start cramping up or the drinks aren’t cutting it, please go get checked out and get some fluids in you, okay?” Chase nods his head, having been to the infield care center before. “Nice job tonight, by the way.”

“Thank you…” Chase then watches as Greg walks away, before glancing over at Sarina.

“Do you really have to go to Las Vegas tonight?” She questions and he nods his head. “Ugh….”

“Relax,” he assures her as he pulls her close. “The week will be over before you know it, and then you can join me for a relaxing weekend at New Hampshire.”