Sunday, November 12 – Phoenix Raceway
25 laps to go. 23 laps to go. 20 laps to go. The laps couldn’t count down quick enough in Sarina’s mind as she watched Chase continue to pace ahead of the field. Her leg began tap more, nails began to disappear, hand clutched the bears tighter – couldn’t they just drop the checkered flag right now?
She then felt her nerves pick up even more as with 15 laps to go, the gap between the No. 24 Chevrolet and No. 20 Toyota began shrink more and more. It was obvious that the handling was going away for Chase, as noticed how he was getting off turn two compared to just five laps earlier.
She just crossed her fingers – they couldn’t lose it now. Maybe they’d get a caution as they were better on the short run. Maybe Chase would find something. Maybe Matt would begin to struggle more as he got closer. Something, anything needed to happen now.
“10 more at the line here,” Eddie tells him over the radio as Sarina’s leg bounces more. “Track bar, dial brake in, whatever you need to do. We are fighting for our lives here.” She knew those tidbits of advice from Eddie were useless as knowing Chase, he was already exploring ideas for change in line or adjustments in the car. They didn’t need the obvious right now. “On you, half a lane lower, looking…” Just like that, anger and heartbreak began to course through her in seeing Kenseth get underneath, and pass him off of turn four for the lead. “Stay with him now….”
“Getting so damn tight!” Chase comes over the wall, as Sarina just looked down, shaking her head. This couldn’t be happening.
“Fighting for our lives here. Stay with it…”
She almost felt like throwing the bear – not caring which one – across pit road onto the track to create a caution as the seconds click by. How could this be happening, again?
She didn’t know what to feel over the course of the next eight laps as she silently prayed for a caution, or something to happen to Kenseth’s car, as the emotions just seemed to blur together. She kept her eyes focused ahead, watching Kenseth take the checkered flag first ahead of Chase.
She wanted to be happy for Matt. She wanted to express pride for him. He was one of the nicest guys in the garage. It was nice to see him go out with a win near the end of his career as it seemed to be happening.
But, there was no drop of happiness, as anger and heartbreak just sat there. Sixth runner=up finish this year alone. How does that happen?
“Ugh, that’s all I had there, buddy,” Chase comes over the radio and her heart breaks even more hearing the disappointment laced in his voice. “I’ll get it right one day there. I’m sorry.” Tears threatened to fall, combined with angry enough to punch something. If she wasn’t feeling it before, Chase’s words just cut it even deeper to the core.
“Don’t be sorry,” Alan says. “You did a helluva job. I think we overachieved with that second. We put ourselves in a position, so be proud of it.” Sarina couldn’t help but smile a little in the crew chief’s encouraging words. Certainly they couldn’t forget how far they fell behind mid-race, and the comeback they managed the final 100 laps.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, man,” Eddie adds. “You gave us a shot at it.”
She takes off the headset, placing it on the box where it belonged, before climbing down the steps. She just shook her head, trying to ease her own emotions, as she watched the cars roll down pit road, before making her way out to where Chase was.
She stood back, watching as NBC approached him for his post-race thoughts. She couldn’t believe how composed he was, easily giving them an explanation on those final laps. She knew if roles reversed, that interview wouldn’t had gone near that smoothly with anger searing off of her.
“What do you have to say about the contact with Denny?” The reporter asks and Sarina rolls her eyes. She knew that incident would be overplayed on every network this week.
“A wise man once told me that you race guys how they race you with a smile on your face, so that’s what I did today,” Chase replies and Sarina couldn’t help but form a grin. She had heard the same advice previously before in the late model shop, and almost wanted to send Ricky a praising text for his lessons because that certainly paid off today. “That’s about all I have to say.”
She watches as he does a few more interviews, before the media glob walks away. She then makes her way over, instantly wrapping her arms around him.
“You did a great job today – no matter the result,” she tells him. “You guys fought hard from struggling to being in a place to win. You did the best you could. Be proud of yourself…” He looks at her with a small smile, giving her a kiss.
“I just can’t believe it….” He lets out as he lets out a sigh. She knew no matter what she said, it wouldn’t change his mind or thoughts – just like her theory on Christopher on Friday. So, she took another approach.
“Your move on Denny was genius, by the way. It was nice to see him not make it either.” A small smile forms on his face as he glances back, wondering if Denny had hung around to pay a visit.
“Did I push it too far?” She laughs and shakes her head no.
“An eye for an eye, right?” He nods his head.
“I know what you’re doing, and it’s a very good attempt….” She then focuses on his brown eyes as he pulls her close. “I’ll get over this in a couple days. It just stings to come close. I’m going to say congratulations to Matt, go do some media room stuff, and then we can get out of here.”
“I wouldn’t mind that all….” She was actually beyond through with this weekend.
“Unbelievable jackass!” Sarina lets out from the bedsroom, as Chase looks in, intrigued. He had just gotten out of the shower and was taking his time drying off. But obviously, her outburst caught him off-guard. He saw her phone in her hand immediately, almost rolling his eyes.
“What are they saying now about you and your brother?” Chase wonders, having grown used to the ridiculous remarks. He already half-expected another dosage when the trial finished off with the results and sentencing.
“Actually, this has nothing to do with that.” He then looked on confused as she normally didn’t over panic unless it was about that. “Denny’s spotter is about as dense as he is.”
“Chris Lambert? Really?” She nods her head, still shocked by the quote that she read in the article.
“So did you realize that Denny tried to let you go for two laps, but you were set to stay behind him, and supposedly accomplish what you finally did?” Chase almost broke out laughing as he hurried over, not caring that the towel came loose in the process, flopping down beside her.
“I’m sorry, but did you at any point see Denny give me the bottom fully?” Sarina shakes her head no. “I mean, he bumped me first. Why would I worry about wrecking him anyway when my focus was on winning?”
“He even says that Denny moved up to give you the bottom, and even slowed down to let you go – but yet you slowed down to keep with him.” It was now official; the laughter he previously held onto was in full blast as he just shook his head. Was this guy serious? He now understood why some people demanded sanity tests for NASCAR employees.
“Denny got put in the second line because I got underneath him, and Denny didn’t just move over because he tried pinching my ass. And slowed down lap times? Does one guy not realize we have data?” Sarina was now laughing herself as she just shook her head.
“Least we know that he and Denny go together quite well….” Chase nods his head. “To be honest, Denny didn’t hold back either. I actually wanted to hop off the pit box, walk down to the care center, and smack some common sense into him.” Chase looks at her surprised now.
“Oh really?” She scrolls up in the article, finding the quote.
“Each person had their own opinion of how they do things and it just proved to people that thought I was a bad guy that he would do the exact same thing in the same circumstances, so I mean, you know, it’s just part of racing. I got into him and he chose to retaliate, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.”
“Is he for real?” Sarina holds out the phone, as if Chase should read it himself to let it set in.
“Clearly, he learned nothing because last I checked initiation and retaliation were two totally different things.” Chase nods his head.
“I would’ve raced him cleanly for the rest of my life if he done the same for me. But, that’s how it goes…” She then sets her phone aside.
“So, can I smack him for you?” Chase laughs, but shakes his head no. “Then I guess I am going to have to help you with that towel…”
“Oh really?” She then moves down closer to him.
“Well, you did do a great job taking care of me Friday night and Saturday, so I owe you a favor…” She then runs her hands down his chest. “Besides, you need a distraction tonight…”
“That’s not a bad idea…..”
Monday, November 13 – Kyle Busch Motorsports
Sarina walks through the doors, coffee in hand, making her way up the stairs. Every Monday morning at KBM resulted in the same thing – meeting in the big office with all the crew chiefs and drivers, with the boss making an appearance.
Though having already checked twitter, she knew that Kyle wouldn’t be there due to being on the Championship 4 tour in New York fulfilling media obligations. If he was set to make an appearance, she was going to bring a combination of popcorn, ear plugs, and Tylenol for the butt-chewing that probably would’ve went down.
She makes her way through the doors, spotting Christopher already in his usual seat.
“You’re lucky he’s not here today…” She comments as she walks by Christopher, taking her spot. He just shakes his head, catching the reference already. When was she going to let this go?
“I know,” he replies. “You know I didn’t mean to, right? I still feel terrible. I love you, you’re my buddy. I take full blame once he does yell at us. But you know I meant the apology, right?” She felt herself crack a little, shaking her head as he looked like a little kid right now trying to say whatever would work.
“I love how you’re blubbering. You went full tilt on Erik, but here you’re acting like this.” He was almost set to yell back in response. How did the two teammate incidents even begin to compare? Clearly, Erik screwed up when he forgot to turn the wheel left or hit the brakes upon realizing a car was right in front of him.
“Because I really am sorry. That situation, I just messed up…” She couldn’t hold back anymore, shooting a small smile his direction.
“We were both going for the win, and we’d both probably do the same thing over again. I get it, Christopher. All is forgiven and forgotten, as long as you forget that I was willing to kill you on Friday night.” He then laughs, reaching over a quick hug.
“Deal. By the way, your boyfriend makes an impressive bodyguard.” She then laughs as she had to give Chase credit that he did a decent job handling things.
“I just wish he could get that dang win out of the way.” Christopher sits back, relaxing, smile forming on his face. He had a theory already.
“A win for Chase Elliott in a number other than 9 just wouldn’t seem righ-”
“Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, No. 94. Need I say more?” Christopher almost felt his plan was crushed, but could only smile back in return.
“No. 94 is an exception, though, as his dad ran that number for numerous years. McDonalds scheme, right?” Sarina smiles, nodding her head. It was nice to see Christopher getting to know more NASCAR history. “His dad ran the 9 for years, and Chase has run the 9 for all of his career – except those truck races and Cup Series. Elliott and 9 just go together naturally. HMS put it perfectly when they mentioned legacy. I have a funny feeling that he will win as soon as the 2018 season starts now he’s back where he belongs.” Sarina couldn’t help but admit that maybe Christopher was onto something. That didn’t mean she was giving up on this year, yet.
“We still have Homestea-”
“Kyle Larson is winning that one, and you can’t deny it – unless he blows a motor.” She actually couldn’t argue with that based on Larson’s statistics. “Besides, only one other driver has won in the 24 before – Jeff Gordon. It’s one of those number deals where you just know it’s not right.”
“So what about poor Willie B next year?” Christopher then smiled, already having worked that detail out in his head.
“Willie B has broken every mold since he entered the sport. Just four years experience in racing and he’s doing things that some of us wish we could do with 10 years of experience. He’s going to break this mold, too.” She smiles, as it was a decent way to solve the debate on hand.
“You’re pretty smart…” He just gives her a wink back in response as the crew chiefs enter, set to get things started.
Wednesday, November 15
“You look like you found something to kill again….” Chase comments, looking over at her sitting at the kitchen table scrolling through her phone. After a busy day, they were set to relax with a nice home cooked meal and a movie.
“How do you know me that well?” She questions and he just shrugs his shoulders. “Mike Wheeler also goes well with Denny and Chris, too.” Chase could only roll his eyes as he walked over, set to snatch the phone out of her hands.
“Do you realize why I avoid twitter after an incident at the track now?” She nods her head as she holds her phone out of his reach. “You need to leave it alon-”
“Admit it – you want to know what he said.” He then lets out a sigh, walking back over to the stove. “I knew it.”
“Curiousity is the worst thing at times, but lay it on me. Besides, I need a good laugh.”
“I’m going to read his exact words and leave nothi-”
“Go ahead….” She then takes a deep breath, still shocked at Mike’s words.
“Even in Phoenix, I thought Chase was grown up enough to just move on and realize that it was just an accident at Martinsville, and we didn’t mean to wreck him – and Chase couldn’t get ove-”
“So basically he’s comparing me to a toddler?” Sarina laughs as she rolls her eyes.
“That, or your one of those gossip girls in a high school now…” Chase just shakes his head in surprise.
“Ridiculous!” Sarina then goes out of the message, sitting back in the chair. “What are you thinking because no, you can’t smack the crap out of Mike too?” She then laughs, but felt letdown. Every good plan she had….
“Nah, I’m not thinking about that at all. My Uncle Mike came to mind actually and how he’d always pick on my dad about having no policeman gossip like those TV shows.” Chase carefully eyes her, remembering the name was mentioned as one of her uncles in his search. It made sense that Mike would be one that she’d say easily, too, given that his daughter was Lindsay – her introduction to short track racing.
“Really? What was your uncle Mike like, anyway?” Casual conversation, just like the boys suggested…..
“He was amazing, Chase. I mean, he was the sweetest guy you could know. He built me a toy box when I was eight years old. It had my name on it, along with teddy bears, toy blocks, other toys – everything hand painted. I actually wish I still had that today. But oh man, the stories I could tell….” Chase brings over a pair of plates, setting them down.
There was no question where his search was going from here.