Moving Forward – Chapter 50: Darlington Test

Late November

Dale makes his way to the garage area, fingers intertwined with Marie’s as the pair cast a glance at each other. It was obvious that both were nervous for how the events would play out that day as the future rested simply on the next couple of hours.

He felt nervous that he wasn’t ready. She felt nervous that something bad was going to happen. He felt nervous that he was going to let the whole team down. She felt nervous that he was pushing himself too soon.

Thankfully, they were both glad that Chase had agreed to watch Alyssa and Elsa for the day so they didn’t have to worry about the kids on top of that.

“Daddy!” They hear yelled from across the garage area as a four-year-old comes running up to him, wrapping her arms around her legs.

“Sorry, she got away while I was changing Elsa,” Chase confesses as he hurries to catch up with her while carrying Elsa.

“It’s okay,” Dale offers as he wraps his arms around her, scooping her up in his arms. “What has daddy told you about running in the garage?” Instantly, her face turned to the biggest pout she could manage.

“Not too,” she answers.

“No more running, and no more getting away from Chase. You’re supposed to stay with him all day, okay?” She nods her head as he puts her down.

“Daddy drive soon?” Dale smiles, as he glances towards the familiar car sitting right there beside him in the garage. Why did it feel that it wanted to jump out and bite him?

“Soon sweetheart. We’re just getting ready.” She rolls her eyes as she runs over to look in the car.

“It ready. Go daddy go!” Dale smiles as he walks up behind her, scooping her back up in his arms.

“Soon. I need to do some stuff first. Why don’t you go play with Chase and Elsa?” She then pouts, as  he puts her back down.

“Okay…” She then goes back over to Chase as Chase leads her away once again. “I want to see car go fast.”

“Soon Alyssa, soon,” Chase assures her as he wraps his free arm around here. “Why don’t we go take a walk down pit road and check out some stuff that we normally aren’t allowed to see?” A smile crosses her face as she nods her head immediately.

“How is he so good with her?” Marie wonders as she watches Chase walk off with her kids.

“It just comes natural,” Dale answers as he smiles. “It’s good, though. At least we have someone close we can trust.” He then wraps his arms around her from behind. “That way, me and you can have some opportunities to play…” Marie chuckles as she spins around to face him.

“I don’t mind that at all one bit. But, don’t you have a job to do today?” He lets out a sigh as he glances back at the car once again.

“I guess I better start paying attention before Greg yells at me.” She chuckles, nodding her head in agreement. She then watches as he goes off to speak with the team about the plan for the day.

After divulging a plan that would involve Dale doing three sets of 20 laps, followed by two sets of 50 laps, they were set to get started. He makes his way over to the car, grabbing his helmet and putting it on as usual. Adam Jordan made his way over, standing by the cockpit of the car as he watched his driver closely.

“I went with our usual set-up,” Adam informs him, catching Dale’s attention. “Mirror placement, seat wise, brackets, pedals, etc. If you want any changes, just let me know.” Dale nods his head, appreciating the extra care put in place.

As he had done so many other times in his career, he climbed into the cockpit of his car, securing the belts over his shoulders and across his lap. Everything about this should just come natural, but he couldn’t help but feel a little different that day. Ah yes, his career was on the line.

“Just take it easy to start and build up to where we should be,” Greg advises as Dale heads out on track for the first set of laps.

Initially, things began a little slow as Dale let himself become real accustom to his surroundings and the role, while mentally testing himself as he didn’t want to push it unless ready. However, by the end of the first set, things were about where they should be.

Following a quick lookover and chat with Mickey, he headed back out for the next 20. This time, it just came natural and before long, he was lapping as quick as the front runners had done earlier that year.

“He’s back….” Adam sings in a tune, impressed by how quickly Dale had gotten back into the flow.

All in all, the rest of the day went according to plan and the clearance was given for everything to go forth as planned for next season. With high fives and smiles all around, nobody could wait for the season to begin as they were set to prove something.

But first, there were some other big milestones in store that Dale couldn’t help but be excited about.

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Moving Forward – Chapter 32: Bristol

Marie let out a sigh as she sat in the motorcoach, watching Fox Sport’s feed of practice.

She had planned to be outside enjoying the sights, especially being Bristol, but found herself in the motorhome. With a six month old, they never wanted to stay still for long and it seemed today Elsa was on the patrol of playing more than usual. It was why Marie had her laying on the floor on her blanket underneath the toy thing that they had gotten her. Elsa could reach up and hit the toys, causing them to swing a little and make different noises.

While Elsa wanted to play, Alyssa was all about being around the racecars. It was why she had trusted Greg and Travis to keep an eye on the five-year-old. They both agreed, easily, taking turns as they did their necessary work. It was easy to keep track of Alyssa as she was good at listening in where to go, and how to stay out of the way of the work.

Marie lets out a sigh as the practice speeds flash on the screen, seeing Dale currently middle of the pack. So much for the plan that Greg had for the weekend as it didn’t seem to be working thus far for them.

Though she couldn’t sit and ponder that as she looked back down at her wedding plans. They had finalized the guest list once already – and even sent out invitations, but now she felt lost. Would everybody fit in the church? Would everybody have a spot to eat afterwards? What if they had invited too many people?

Shaking her head and a little laugh, perhaps Dale was right – maybe she was ponder over the wedding a little too much lately. Maybe she could use a break, too, so she had a clearer thought on everything.

She then focused on going through some country business, instead, figuring it’d be a decent escape. It worked, as she forgot about her wedding question – till the boys returned with Alyssa in hand.

As they made their way in the coach, she found the question at the tip of her tongue. She was curious as to the answer from Dale, but wanted to keep her word in regards to their agreement. Besides, he had reason to want to focus on the weekend after the lack of speed in practice.

“You look like you’ve been scared by a ghost or something,” Travis breaks the silence in the room, before sitting down to spend some time with Elsa.

“Is something wrong?” Dale asks and Marie shakes her head no. it was that moment she wanted to spit out the question, but the discussion from the other night rang through her mind over and over.

“You guys just caught me off-guard – that’s all,” Marie comments as she sets aside the country business for the time being. Some discussion would get them all off her back. “So, how was practice?”

“It was good. The car has some good speed in it, we figured out some handling issues, and everything we worked on we were pleased with. I think we’re going to have a winning combination this weekend.” Greg shakes his head in agreement, which surprises Marie based on the practice speed.

“You guys may want to divulge what we worked on as she’s confused now – just like the fans,” Travis adds as Marie glances between the crew guys.

“We worked on race runs – not qualifying trim,” Greg explains. “So therefore the speed factor just didn’t shine through. It was part of the team plan for the day. We worked on race runs, the 48 team works on qualifying trim. See where they were in practice? Enough said.” Marie shakes her head, understanding, feeling much better about things. Perhaps she could’ve asked the question after all.

Greg then goes to sit on the couch after accepting a bottle of water from Dale, though almost sits on the binders. He immediately stands up, glancing at the cover and seeing the word wedding. He then trades a glance with Dale before picking them up and shifting them over to sit down.

“Mommy, Daddy – can I watch cars?” Alyssa’s question catches the entire group’s attention. Glancing out the window, they knew she was referring to XFINITY qualifying.

“But who is going to watch you?” Dale questions as Alyssa thinks it over, before pointing at him. “Sweetheart, as much as I want to, I need to talk with Greg and Travis about things.” She then glances around the room and points to Marie and Marie shakes her head no.

“Someone need to watch me? Really?” Dale and Marie both shake their heads yes. “Can I ask Chasey?” The pair glance at each other with a smile, before Dale pulls out his phone and face times Chase. After a couple minutes, the pair had their answer – resulting in a big smile on Alyssa’s face as she ran to the door to meet up with him.

“So, do you want to go a little loose or no?” Greg asks, switching attention once again. Marie, though, was still focused on the eye glances between Dale and Greg with regards to her binders.

“It’d probably work better so we’ll be fine through all the rounds,” Dale offers and Greg shakes his head yes, agreeing, as he opens up his laptop. “It’s up to you, though.”

“Driver input is important, though, and if you agree then I’m doing it.”

“Aren’t you just the cutest?” Travis lets out as he tickles Elsa, causing her to laugh. “I love your laugh.” Travis then glances up at Marie, seeing the look again. “That look again.” Dale then pulls his attention away from his phone, looking at her curiously.

“What’s up?” He asks, knowing that she couldn’t talk her way out of it this time. Letting out a sigh, she plops back down on her spot on the couch.

“I saw the glances between the pair of you as Greg moved the binders,” she states as the driver and crew chief combo look at each other again. “What’s up?”

“After I let off on you, I felt bad so I talked a couple things over with Greg in how I was feeling and actin-”

“Realizing you were being a jerk?” Travis questions, causing a surprise look at Dale’s face. “Yeah, I noticed it, too.”

“I’m sorry, honestly.” Dale then looks back over at Marie. “Anyways, I may have told him about our wedding deal in detail and such. By the look, I’m guessing he was curious if we laid back on the agreement and if I said my apology to you. Greg, to answer you, I did apologize for what I said.” Greg shakes his head, understanding, keeping his eyes focused on his laptop though as he wanted to make sure the notes were kept neat.

“No worries – it’s fine,” Marie comments as she takes a binder off the stack. “By the way, I hate to ask you this in the midst of a weekend – but are you sure we’ll be able to fit everybody in the church? Are you sure there’s enough room? Oh, and is there enough room for tables in the saloon?” Greg and Travis chuckle a little, causing a scorn look from Marie as Dale thinks it over.

“There’s enough room, Marie. I already checked a couple different times to be certain before we sent out the invites. It’ll be fine, Marie.” She shakes her head accepting, easily. “And ignore those two immature buttheads for laughing at a very concerning question.”

“I wasn’t laughing at that,” Greg states as he looks up from his notes. “I’m laughing because she sounds like every bride out there. Listen, you may think you’re strange for over-thinking everything – and you, sir, may think that she’s going crazy over it. However, that’s how every bridge gets. I don’t know what gets into them, but it happens. My wife was the same way, as was my cousin. But no matter the concerns that you have, everything will piece itself together on the day of the wedding. It’ll work out.”

“Thanks,” Marie and Dale both comment together as Greg smiles.

“The key to a good wedding and a good marriage is love, and you both have that – as proven for a long time now.”

Moving Forward – Chapter 29: Questioning Decisions

Dale shook his head in agreement as Greg laid out the plan of attack for practice that weekend at Bristol.

“Then we’ve got an off-weekend so it’ll give us some time to think about stuff for Darlington and Richmond,” Greg continues as Dale shakes his head yes. “Personally, I want to make a statement at Darlington so people know what to expect when we hit the intermediates in the Chase. I also know you wouldn’t mind winning there, either.” Dale couldn’t deny that theory, either.

“I’ve believed in you since day one, and I still believe in you,” Dale states. “Everything sounds perfect. We are going to get out of this slump.” Greg shakes his head in agreement.

“To be honest, we had quick cars at Pocono and last weekend at Michigan. We just had the pit road hiccups. No speeding on pit road anymore for you, and I’ll make sure the guys get the lug nuts tight.” Dale lets out a sigh as he had been beating himself up all week thus far for the speeding penalty at Michigan. They had dominated the race all day, but on the final round of pit stops, he sped down pit road and it cost them all their track position. They then had to restart back in the 20s, getting caught up in a crash.

“Trust me – I don’t want to repeat last weekend, again.” He then sits back in the chair, thinking it over. He had been grumpy since Sunday afternoon after he had emerged from the wrecked racecar. Letting out a sigh, perhaps he had been a little unfair with Marie. Maybe it was the frustration from speeding that led to his blow-up regarding the wedding planning. “Greg, have I been a pain in the ass this week?”

“Do you want the honesty or something to make you feel goo-”

“Seriously?” Greg lets out a sigh as he glances up from his notes.

“You about bit my head off on Monday when I came to ask you about ideas for Bristol. You then about bit the crew’s heads off when someone made the comment about you helping out with pit crew practice. Let’s just say that there have been comments all week. With that said, we’ve all let them go, knowing they stem from the Michigan incident.” Dale lets out a sigh and shakes his head as he thinks back to the night prior.

“I think I let that get to me with regards to Marie, too.” Greg then looks at his driver confused. “I told her that I didn’t want to deal with any wedding planning till after the season was over. We’ve got the major decisions dealt with, so we can deal with the rest after the year is done. I told her I wanted these final weeks to solely concentrate on racing due to things being, well, suckish these past couple months.”

“And now you’re worried that you went off a little too harshly?” Dale shakes his head yes as Greg lets out a sigh. “To be honest, I don’t blame you for what you said. We have both said that total concentration is needed for the Chase so we can be the best that we can, and figure out a way to get a championship out of all this. You see it with Jimmie and Chad, and Kevin has hinted that he’s the same way. I wouldn’t kick yourself in the butt so quick.” Dale knew that Greg was probably right in the argument, having discussed previous Chase experiences with Jimmie. However, it still didn’t sit well given the tone he took.

“I just feel that maybe I was a little too forth coming with how I handled it.”

“So perhaps you should offer an apology for your attitude and then let the agreement stand, if you feel that way. She was there in Michigan. She’ll totally understand the attitude.” Dale knew that to be the truth as he remembered the glance that she gave him the flight home given his lack of wanting to social at all, even with the kids.  It also didn’t help that he failed to do much around the house that night or Monday, either.

“Why was I such an ass?” Greg shrugs his shoulders.

“You let everything get to you personally, that’s why. You’ve always been that way, too. Look at things when they went down with Chase and Mariel-”

“Do not bring that up.” Greg then freezes upon the tone of Dale’s voice as Dale takes a deep breath. “Look, I don’t want to think about what happened, okay? We’ve moving forward and away from that. Chase is being able to get through each day without much thought. While he admitted to me there are a couple nightmares and flashbacks, he’s been able to move forward from it all with some ease now. I am also moving forward myself, finding it easier on planes and such. I don’t need any reminders.” Greg slowly shakes his head yes as he looks back down at his notes.

“My apologies for bringing it up. I forgot how sore of a subject it was.” Dale then sighs as he keeps his eyes focused on the crew chief.

“I’m sorry for my tone and attitude for when you did bring it up. It’s just….I’d rather not, okay?” Greg shakes his head in agreement. Greg was set to get back to work with ease, though stopped and glanced up at his driver. There were still some lingering thoughts on the topic.

“Pardon me if I’m pushing boundaries with this question, but you have to go back to Pitronia to do the royal announcement and such, right?” Dale slowly shakes his head yes as he crosses his arms. “Are you ready to head back there? I mean, that’s where a lot of this started.”

“I’ve been back since, Greg. We went there for the royal crowning, and other country behaviors. We actually are going to visit during the off-weekend next week, too. I’ve been able to handle it fine without any problems those times, so why would the wedding be different?” Greg wasn’t sure, but felt the need to address the topic. He wasn’t ready to hear about a random wedding surprise.

“I was just curious, that’s all. I wanted to make sure you were taking care of all basis.” Dale then stands up as he glances over the desk at the crew chief.

“I can handle my life, Greg. Trust me. Let’s just focus on getting the car running better.” Dale then walks towards the door, taking one final glance back at Greg. “Text me if you need me, okay?” Greg shakes his head yes as he watches his driver leave the office.

Moving Forward – Chapter 23: Daytona Pre-Race Con’t

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February 2016 – Sunday 

Alan sat quietly for a couple more minutes, allowing Chase to fully get himself calmed down from the ordeal.

He trusted the guys, especially Josh to handle things on pit road. Josh Kirk was Alan’s right-hand man, responsible for whatever the crew chief slung his way. Thus far, he had impressed in handling everything with ease.

It was why he knew that he could solely focus on his driver at that moment, making sure that he was calmed down and ready to go for the race, or whatever direction that he felt they needed to talk. He truly believed giving him the space with the conversation would be enough to get him set for the day ahead, as once he was in the car, everything would be chilled out.

“Are you okay?” He finally asks after some time has gone by, watching Chase glance up and shake his head yes. “Okay. Remember what I said – no one is upset with what happened as we understand that you’re still working at moving forward. Also, the guys will have it handled so you don’t have to worry about anyone saying anything. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” Chase says quietly as Alan gives him a questioning glance. He respected the young man’s manners, but never felt comfortable with being called sir.

“What did I tell you about that?” Chase looks up sheepishly.

“Sorry. It’s habit.” Alan shakes his head understanding.

“It’s not the worse thing that I could have to handle, as far as habits. It also shows another reason I love you – the level of respect that you have. But anyways, enough about that. What’s your focus going to be once we go back to pit road?” Chase knew the answer, but couldn’t help but wonder what everybody else would have to say.

“Focusing on the day ahead, getting behind the wheel and doing the best job that I can.” Alan shakes his head, approving as he stands up.

“Well, if you’re ready to head back there, we can head over….together.” Chase stands up, takes a deep breath before trading a glance with the crew chief.

The pair then emerge from their hiding spot behind the pit box, heading back to pit road. There were a couple of eyes that glanced down their way, some of them filled with concern while others filled with questions. There were also a bunch that didn’t even bother to glance in their direction, going about their business as usual. Chase couldn’t help but notice each set of eyes.

The pressure was on to perform as he was supposed to be the next big star in the sport. He wanted to live up to not only the expectations of others, but the ones that he had placed on his shoulders. People could accuse him of overstepping those boundaries at times, but it was his way of handling things. If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right.

The pressure right now was creating this burden on his shoulders. He wondered how many would judge his performance during the race. He wondered how many would judge what happened pre-race. Shaking his head, he tried to get the thoughts out of his mind, knowing once he was settled in the car, there’d be no issues.

The pair eventually reunite up with the crew, with some of the guys immediately giving Chase a fist-pump or a hug, having had their own tinge of worry in seeing the events just prior.

“Nobody should say a word,” Josh whispered as he gave him a hug. “We just told everyone that you needed a moment to yourself with everything that happened. Given what you went through last year, it seemed to go over without any issues. We didn’t even hint towards the panic, though.” Chase shakes his head as he glances around, noticing a couple sets of eyes staring.

“It doesn’t stop them from looking even if you say went well,” he comments in return as Alan glances over.

 

“Focus on what I said,” Alan reminds him. “We’ll handle anything that comes your way.” Chase hated to agree to those terms, not wanting to have a babysitter so to speak. However, in that moment, he knew that he had to listen if he was going to keep making steps forward.

“Your parents said that they’d be here shortly to see you,” Josh adds as Chase shakes his head yes. That was something that was welcoming as he knew with his parents by his side that it’d help make things easier.

Further down pit road, the feeling of commotion could also be felt at the 88 car with Dale getting set for the day. Marie had brought both girls out to pit road with her, holding Elsa in her arms. Once reaching the car, though, it seemed the new addition was involved in a game of hot potato as the crew guys each wanted to hold her.

“I see someone not happy right now,” Kevin Meendering says as he kneels down to Alyssa’s level. “Where’s our pre-race smile?” She then glances over and shrugs her shoulders before glancing back at her sister. The youngster couldn’t help but be jealous in the attention that the new kid in town was getting. “What’s wrong, Alyssa?”

“Am I still ‘pecial?” Alyssa asks as she looks at the engineer. Kevin felt a small, sympathizing smile form on his face. He knew that it was always an adjustment for any family with a new addition.

“Of course you’re still special. You’ll always be special to your parents, to each of us guys, your family, to everybody. Both you and Elsa are special in your own ways and are loved the same amount.” Alyssa glances at her sister, before focusing her eyes back on him.

“I don’t know…” Kevin then pulls her close to him.

“Just because we’re not passing you around and holding you doesn’t mean that we love you any less, okay? We love you just as much and you’re always a special piece of this team. But I will tell you that if you get lonely, I can give you a hug, talk to you or play game, okay?” A small smile forms her face as she shakes her head yes.

“Thank you Kevin!” She then wraps her arms around him tightly as he hugs her back with a smile.

“Say, want to sit in the car?” She shakes her head yes. The engineer instantly picks her up, putting her in the car. She immediately sits down on the seat with her hands on the steering wheel.

“She looks like a natural in there,” their team PR rep comments as she takes a photo, sending it out to twitter.

“She’s definitely her daddy’s little girl,” Kevin offers as he focuses back on her.

It seemed the rest of pre-race went by easily, with the pre-race prayer and anthem in the books with no issues.

Down at the 24 car, it seemed as though the incident never happened as Chase got set to climb in the car. He offered a hug to each of his parents, one to Alan and one to Josh before climbing in. If you asked him anything about what happened, it was an after thought.

At the 88 car, it was the same story as Dale went through his usual pre-race ritual of giving both Marie and Alyssa a kiss, while adding a new kiss to the group for Elsa. He was quickly set to go, buckled in the car.

“You’re thinking…” Greg comments as he kneels down by Dale’s window. With having spent the previous season working with Chase, he had caught on to where you could tell if someone was thinking about something or having a flashback.

“Just thinking how much things have changed in a year,” Dale replies. “Can you believe that just a year ago we were sitting here, unsure of so many things, scared, but yet on the verge of victory? It’s crazy….” Greg shakes his head in agreement, having spent enough time within the circle to know the specifics.

“But, everything worked out and I can assure you that this year is going to be much better. Everybody is going to put what happened behind them and focus on having a great future, which begins today with a Daytona 500 victory.” Dale smiles as he gives the crew chief a quick high-five.

“I like you’re thinking.”

“You know what to do, boss.” Greg then puts the window net up, giving him a final fist-pump before heading to the pit box.

Moving Forward – Chapter 18: Can-Am Duels

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Congratulations to Chase on winning the pole! Not a surprise considering Hendrick Motorsports’ ability to be quick on the plate tracks in qualifying, and in general.

 

February 2016 – Thursday

“So explain how this works now?” Chase asks as he looks over at Alan. Alan simply shakes his head yes, having gotten word of the latest developments in Daytona.

“Elliott (Sadler) won the Daytona 500 pole with Dale’s car, but driver change results in giving up the pole and starting from the rear of today’s Duel,” Alan answers. “Therefore Denny Hamlin will lead the field to the green in today’s first Duel, with Dale starting at the rear of the field. Whomever wins today’s first Duel will lead the field to the green flag for the Daytona 500.” Chase shakes his head, understanding. It seamlessly somehow made sense.

“And then our duel…”

“Johnson leading the field to the green as second place qualifier, followed by Kenseth and then you. Just stick with Jimmie, and get a good finish, and we will start strong.” Chase lets out a small chuckle as he shakes his head.

“Easier said than done.” Alan gives him look as Chase shrugs his shoulder. “I’m just saying. Daytona can be wild.” Alan gives him a pat on the back.

“You’ll be fine, kid.” Their attention then turns to all the fuss and noise as they glance in the direction, both smiling. “The Royal family has arrived with children in toe.” Chase couldn’t help but smile as he saw Dale and Marie together with their two little girls.

The pair made their way through their way over, letting some of the attention faze down before making their way into the crowd. It seemed that they were the center of attention with everyone wanting to catch a glimpse of Elsa for themselves.

“You’ve got some time before the race – nice timing,” Dale’s PR Laura comments as she leans back against the car, sending out a couple messages to social media.

“Can I see her?” Chase asks as he makes his way over to Marie, who had Elsa clutched against her.

“I’m going to head back to the motorcoach soon to keep her out of the noise and hoopla, but I think that can be arranged,” Marie answers as she moves Elsa away from herself a little to allow Chase to catch a glimpse of her. An immediate smile formed on Chase’s face in seeing how she had Dale’s smile, but certainly got her mom’s eyes.

“She’s adorable. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“Chasey!” Chase hears a small voice and immediately smiles as he looks towards the source.

“Hey Alyssa,” he says as he kneels down to her level. “So you finally made it down here, huh?” She shakes her head yes.

“I come see you and daddy race. You gonna win?” He stays there, giving her a thinking grin as he thinks it over. He knew that he had a car capable of winning. It was just a matter of doing his job behind the wheel.

“I’m going to try to win. Do you think I can win?” Alyssa shakes her head yes. “Well, hopefully I do and then you can come celebrate.”

“Okay!” Chase then smiles as he looks over at Dale and Marie together with Elsa, talking to all the people that had gathered to see her for themselves.

“Do you like your baby sister?” Alyssa shakes her head yes.

“She cute. I hold her with daddy.” Chase smiles, having seen the photo that had been forwarded around of that moment.

“Are you going to help mommy and daddy take care of her?” Alyssa shakes her head yes. “That’s a good girl.

Everybody hung out for awhile longer before splitting, with Dale getting ready for the first Duel, Chase getting set to watch the race with Alan, and Marie heading back to the motorcoach with kids to keep them both out of trouble.

The first Duel went smoothly without any incidents, surprisingly, despite the chaotic three-wide racing through the field from start to finish. Dale was easily able to make his way up to the front of the field, putting himself in position to capitalize late in the race and possibly score the victory.

Unfortunately, his plan didn’t come together as warranted as he’d end up a close second, finishing behind Hamlin. Regardless, there were no complaints on the 88 team as that meant they’d get to start third in the Duel.

“It’s all about Sunday,” Dale tells Greg once the race is done. “We’ve got a really strong car. We’ve proved that we could make the moves today. It’s just about perfecting on it and making the right moves on Sunday.”

“You did a great job out there,” Greg says as he gives him a hug. “Now, I’m not going to keep you. I hear there’s a family that wants to spend time with their daddy.” Dale chuckles and shakes his head no.

“Actually, Elsa has been mommy’s little cuddle bug since she was born. But, maybe I can change that.” Greg smiles as he watches Dale head off to join Marie and the kids in the motorcoach.

The second Duel would go how Hendrick Motorsports wanted, as Chase followed the instructions of his crew chief to a key. He stuck to the bumper of Jimmie from the drop of the green flag, continuing to give him little pushes to keep the pair 1-2. When it came to the first pit stop, the No. 24 team was quick and handy in their pit work, getting Chase off of pit road ahead of Jimmie.

No complaints from either Chase or Jimmie in that, as the key was to stick together, work together and finish 1-2, regardless of the order.

Despite being challenged heavily through the final laps, Chase was able to hold off all challengers with the help from Jimmie, crossing the finish line to pick up the victory.

In victory lane, the celebration quickly started with the team spraying liquids of all sorts all over each other, and high-fiving each other. It was certainly nice to not only start off their year on a high note, but know that they had a stellar piece for the Daytona 500.

As Chase was celebrating with the team, he felt a small tug on the pant leg of his firesuit, looking down with an immediate smile.

“She kept bugging to come see you,” Justin Allgaier comments as Chase smiles. “So I told Dale that I’d bring her over.”

“It’s usual – she always comes to victory lane when I win,” Chase says before picking her up into his arms.

“You won!” Alyssa says as she wraps her arms around him.

“Yep, you were right that I could win,” he tells her, before setting her back down. “Did you watch the whole race?” She shakes her head yes. “So, do you think I can beat your daddy on Sunday?” Alyssa thinks it over, and then shrugs her shoulders.

“Maybe. Me no know.” He just chuckles as he playfully messes with her hair.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, right?” She shakes her head yes.

Moving Forward – Chapter 16: Post Labor

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February 2016 – Wednesday

After waiting awhile and giving them some privacy for a bit, Dale allowed the rest of the family to come in to meeting the new littlest member of the family.

“This is your little sister Elsa,” Dale tells Alyssa as she walks over to look at the baby in Dale’s arms.

“She was in there?” Alyssa asks, pointing to Marie’s stomach as Dale shakes his head yes. “She look too big that, Daddy.” Dale couldn’t help but laugh, as he thought how kids could say the craziest things. “Mommy belly shrink now?”

“Yes sweetheart,” Marie offers from her spot on the bed as she looks over at them, still feeling tired from giving birth. “What do you think of your sister?” Alyssa looks back over at the little girl in Dale’s arms as a big smile forms on her face.

“She cute!” Alyssa then leans against Dale as she continues to eye the newest addition to the family. “Can I hold her, daddy?” Dale smiles and shakes his head yes.

“I have to help you hold her though, okay?” Alyssa shakes her head yes. “We’ll get Aunt Kelley to hold her so you can get comfy on my lap, and then we can hold her together.” Dale then hands Elsa over to Kelley as Kelley looks at her with a smile.

“I think Alyssa described you perfectly, sweetie – you’re certainly cute,” Kelley comments. “You’re also the perfect combination of the pair, it seems.” She then watches as Alyssa gets comfortable on Dale’s lap, before carefully handing the baby over to them.

“I think it’s safe to say that I have the most adorable family,” Marie comments with a smile as she watches them. Kelley then snaps a photo on her phone, knowing that it’ll definitely be a moment to save forever.

“I being extra careful, mommy, unlike my dollies,” Alyssa shares as Marie laughs with a smile. They had told her when Marie was pregnant that she had be more careful holding baby Elsa than she treats her baby dollies when playing with them.

“I can see that. You’re being a good big sister.”

With the baby born, the parents began spreading word to family members first, followed by close friends. they figured that later that night they’d officially reveal to the world that the littlest edition had been added to complete their family circle.

In spreading the news to close friends, which included telling Greg Ives and Chase Elliott the news. Dale had chose to spread the news to close friends by sending them a photo of him and Marie together with both their daughters, as taken by Kelley.

“They certainly make an adorable family,” Elliott Sadler comments as he looks at the photo on Greg’s phone after practice. “Looks like I was right in saying that Dale would be able to get here by Thursday for the Duels.” Everybody shakes their head in agreement, as the team had to admit it’d be nice to have their driver there for the rest of the weekend.

“When is he flying out, and are they all coming?” Travis wonders from his perspective. In the end, it didn’t matter as to the specifics, but it didn’t hurt to have an idea.

“Dale texted me saying that he’s flying out Thursday morning,” Greg reveals. “Marie and Elsa are at the hospital over night. If they’re released by the morning than they’re coming. If not, they’ll fly out once they’re relea-”

“Elsa is going to make her first appearance at the track only a couple days old?” Elliott cuts him off, surprised by the dating of everything.

“That’s what they tell me. The doctor seems find with the baby flying out once she is released, and they want to keep the family together and close.” Greg glances down at his notes for a quick second, getting lost in his own thought. He knew the reason for doing this, beyond the simple facts laid out on paper. There was no doubt that the past year still played on everybody’s thoughts, and having everybody close would give comfort in the midst of that. Besides, Daytona wasn’t the most comfortable topic at times by itself anyway. “I’m not going to dive into specifics, Elliott, but he has his reaso-”

“You don’t need to say anymore.” Greg gives him a nod of approval. “Oh, and as far as Alyssa, she’s flying out on Thursday morning, as well. She’s enjoying spending time with her new sister, but she also can’t wait o get to the track and see her track friends.” Everybody knew those friends included not only those around her age, ranging from Leo to Lydia, but also included fellow drivers, like Chase and Ryan. “Speaking of which, Elliott, Dale was wondering if you’d watch her during the Duels while he’s racing. Chase had the honor last year, but obviously he has his hands full this year.”

“I wouldn’t mind at all.” Greg relays the message back to Dale via text.

It seemed that everything was falling into the place as the crew chief had planned it out prior to the weekend and beyond. Now it was just about getting everything to fall together once they hit the race track.

Moving Forward – Chapter 12: Daytona Qualifying

February 2016

 

As Chase had predicted, the rest of the night went smoothly without incident. He was able to sleep that night, getting all the sleep that he could muster. As he woke up and went about his normal morning routine, he couldn’t help but smile.

It was officially the beginning of his Sprint Cup Series career.

He went forth the rest of the morning with ease, attending the pre-qualifying meeting with the team to discuss last minute adjustments and such. They didn’t know if they had anything for the pole given how they had practiced, so as long as they got a pair of solid laps and started somewhat near the front for the Duel they’d be off to a solid start.

“Remember – no pressure,” Alan comments as he pats Chase’s shoulder. “If we have to rely on the worse case scenario, we have the owner’s points from last season that will get us in the field. Just focus on doing the best job that you can, okay?” Chase shakes his head yes with a smile. “That’s good. Did you sleep alrig-”

“What did I tell you last night?” Chase cuts him off as Alan lets out a sigh.

“Okay, you told me to lay off as you’d be fine. I believe you – I honestly do. I just can’t help but worry at times. When Jarred told me, it caught me off-guard. I’m sorry.” Chase was about to go the defensive route in telling him that he didn’t want to hear another word out of frustration, but took a deep breath. He could see where the crew chief was coming from.

“It’s okay. I understand. I would just rather avoid talking about it, if you understand. They say that post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, for sort is something that you never totally get out of your system. I can never erase what happened, what I felt in those moments, the fear I carried, and the fact that sometimes I still look over my shoulder, or don’t trust a stranger as much as I should. They say you never get over it, but rather you find a way to deal with it so you can live your life. My way of dealing with it? I have the strategies for the nightmares, I try to focus away from it and talk about it with those close to me if I need to.” Alan shakes his head, understanding.

“So in other words, you’ll come to me if you need to, but would rather just pretend as if nothing happened?” Chase shakes his head yes. “I can work with you on that. My mouth is shut.”

“Good, because I thought you had a job to do.”

It didn’t take long till the group was on pit road hanging out, waiting for their on the 2.5-mile oval. They watched as the first car pulled off pit road – Denny Hamlin – set for his pair of laps. Chase had drawn 20, so it’d be awhile till he would get his chance to make his pair of laps.

He could feel the eyes of the reporters and photographers on him, repeatedly noticing the multiple photos that they were taken. It was to be expected. He was replacing Jeff Gordon. He was the rookie that everybody had their eyes on with his last name and success up through the ranks. Everybody also had their concerns considering what they had heard from the winter. As long as they maintained a level of respect and didn’t push the boundaries, it’d be fine in his mind.

It was finally time for him to take his pair of laps as he grabbed his helmet, placing it on his head with one of the crew guys helping to get the HANs attached correctly. He smiled and thanked each of the crew guys for their good luck wishes in the process, while sharing a hug with both the boss and his parents.

“Remember what I said,” Alan says as he watches Chase climb in the car before walking off pit road.

“Is everything going smoothly?” Alan hears and glances over to his left to see the boss standing there. He simply shakes his head yes, without another word. He had found a level of trust with Chase and wasn’t going to burst the bubble. The incident that took place would be kept between the pair, and the boss would only be informed on a need-to-know basis.

“He’s handling it in his way, and doing a good job. I have an eye on him, though.” Rick shakes his head accepting.

Alan kept his eyes focused on the No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet for both laps with intrigue, glancing at the stopwatch every couple of seconds. With both laps in the books, he stood pleased with the performance. It wouldn’t be enough to win the pole, but it was a lot better than they had practiced. They would be in a solid position come Thursday.

When the whole session was complete, the pair couldn’t complain as he had qualified sixth, set to start to third in the second of the Duels. Alan felt confident in where they were starting and the drafting ability of the car, to along with the ability to watch the first race and see how it unfolded first.

“Unbelievable,” Alan comments as he looks over the final rundown. It seemed that the Hendrick Motorsports cars had speed, having swept the front row.

Elliott Sadler, who was filling for Dale, had managed to put the No. 88 Chevrolet on the pole, with Jimmie Johnson second. Looking at how that shook down, both cars were locked in the field and Jimmie would be starting on pole for the second Duel, right ahead of Chase. Satisfaction was the key of the day.

Of course, it was meant with a bit of disappointment in knowing that the No. 88 being on the pole really didn’t mean much since Elliott wouldn’t be running the Daytona 500. Hopefully, Elsa would be born in the next three days so Dale could run the Duel himself and get the car a decent qualifying spot, starting from the rear of the Duel with a driver change. If not, they knew that’d mean Dale would start at the back of the 500. At least they knew that they were locked in without any issue right now.

Shortly after qualifying completed, Dale called Greg to make sure that the team was not too bummed in not being able to keep the pole position with the current situation. Greg quickly assured him that it was not a problem, given that the team backed his reason for not being there. It wasn’t about where you started, anyway, but where you finished.

“I told you that the car had lots of speed,” Dale says while on the phone with Greg. “There was a reason why I wanted to bring Amelia with us this weekend.” Greg laughs as he remembered the debate in the shop as to whether to bring a new car, or bring the car that they ran at the plate tracks through last season.

“I have no doubt in your ability,” Greg offers. “Now we know Amelia can get the job done, hurry up and have that baby, and get your ass down here.” Dale laughs as he looks over at Marie.

“I’ll be sure to pass that message along with Marie, who has already walked around the house five times today to try and make Elsa come now.”

Marie could only sit there now, rubbing her stomach, wondering if she should’ve let Dale go down and run the two laps himself versus sitting there with her and their patient daughter.

“Come on Elsa…,” she encourages quietly to herself. “Please co-operate and come meet us.”