Sunday, February 11 – Daytona International Speedway
Chase walks down pit road, set to kick off the day. Knowing the Hendrick Motorsports cars were good in qualifying, he was confident that today would go well. But really, it didn’t matter as starting position was one of those no guarantee on the plate track, and the Duel was really where it all happened to be set.
“After watching the ARCA race in a bucket full of nerves last night, I have to wonder how you are today,” he hears Jimmie and can only roll his eyes. After Todd had forwarded the video and message to Kyle, it seemed that Kyle had passed it along to some others – including Chase’s own teammates.
“I’m fine now that it is done and over with,” Chase states as Jimmie just chuckles.
“There’s still the truck race next Friday.” Chase slowly nods his head as he knew the nerves would probably be back then.
“I feel better about that, simply due to no endless restart rule with one to go and much better talented drivers.”
“I can’t believe you, a racecar driver, would get nervous…” Chase looks at him surprised, as he holds his hands up a certain distance apart.
“Dude, she was like this close to being in that second last wreck!” Jimmie had tuned into the race out of curiosity, and knew exactly what Chase was talking about.
“Just to drive through it and get penalized for holding back on the rest-”
“That was a shitty call!” Jimmie couldn’t quite immediately agree with his teammate.
“She wasn’t up to the field, though, and it proved to be an advantage because it helped her escape that mess.” Chase lets out a sigh as he wasn’t about to get into an argument. How could he argue about something that she wasn’t even upset about herself? “With that in mind, do I have your permission to plan a bachelor party yet?”
“We’re not engaged, Jimmie.” Jimmie looks at him a little confused. “What?”
“I literally told Dale that you’d probably be engaged by Speedweeks. So, are you waiting until Valentine’s Da-”
“No.” Chase then takes a deep breath, remembering what he told the crew guys. “Look, it’s not happening anytime soon so can you just please drop it? We’ve talked about it and know how each other stan-”
“One of you is afraid, and it’s probably her.” Chase lets out a sigh. “Hey, it’s fine. I understand based on her history as to why she’s afraid. But, she talked about that with you clearly and you both know where each other stands. So when the time is right, like you said, it will happen. I just can’t help but bug you.”
“Keep it up and I’ll get William to buy you a Grandpa package.” Jimmie gives him a ‘are you serious’ look as Chase just laughs, walking away.
Ultimately, the session went solidly as he would end up 12th in round one, followed by moving up to 10th in the second. It’d set him up to start fifth in the second Duel on Thursday evening. However, he couldn’t admit but feel a little off in watching the other three qualify first, third, and fifth – setting them up to start all together in the first Duel.
“I swear I didn’t do some trick or miss some trick they were doing,” Alan confesses following the session. “I mean, to be fair, all the cars were built pretty equal.” He then glances back at his notes. “Did you say that it drove well in practice?”
“It felt good by itself, and it felt real comfortable despite being in the middle of that one draft,” Chase comments as Alan shakes his head a little confused.
“I got nothing – unless the adjustment we made to get you a little more comfortable actually slowed you down.” Chase shrugs his shoulders, not even sure as he looks over the starting line-up for his Duel. “You’ve got Kyle, Denny and Erik all starting together up front. You know that’s going to be a Toyota trai-”
“Grab the back of it and use it to stay in position until the end?” Alan nods his head as that wasn’t a bad plan. “William and Alex said that the runs you get in the draft with the new package feel greater than what they’ve seen or are used to. So no matter what, if we have a good handling car, we can get those runs and we can make the moves. We’ll be fine…”
“I hope you’re right because I’m baffled right now.” He then glances at his watch. “Let’s get ready for the Clash, and try to win that. We’ll learn what we can, see what happens, make some notes, and hopefully Thursday goes well.”
Chase retreats into the trailer, opening the cupboard as he lets out a sigh. It would’ve been easier to qualify, hang out, go to intros and run the Clash without any interruptions, but that wasn’t possible. Sponsor obligations required yet another firesuit change.
As he reaches in to grab the green firesuit, a hand reaches out from the cupboard touching his shoulder.
“I knew you’d be by,” he hears, immediately calming his fast paced breathing as he could recognize that voice anywhere.
“You scared the crap out of me!” He lets out as he pulls on the hand, yanking her out of the closet as she just lets out a laugh.
“But you know that it will be worth your while…” She then pushes back on the couch, straddling herself on top as she pulls down the zipper on the NAPA firesuit. “Besides, I had to come see you before I head up to watch the race with the girls.” She knew it’d be odd missing the pit box, but she could handle it for 60 laps. She just hoped the day went smoothly.
“I don’t have much time…” She then looks into his brown eyes as she pulls the firesuit off of his shoulders.
“I didn’t say that it’d take long, now did I?” The sight of her tongue licking her own lips before him immediately turned him to mush, as he pulled her close, kissing her lips as she worked at getting the rest of the firesuit off. “Actually, this would be a great new tradition….”
“I’m not complaining….”
Sarina catches up with the girls, taking her seat alongside them as Natalie looks over.
“We were beginning to wonder if you were coming,” Natalie comments as Sarina just shrugs her shoulders, smile not even fading one bit from her face.
“It took longer than I thought,” she offers as the other girls immediately chuckle with glances towards each other.
“Did you go give Chasey a good luck quickie?” Danica breaks out, causing Sarina to look over immediately shocked – but her red cheeks gave her away. “Oh my gosh….”
“Is it that obvious?” The other girls nod their head yes in return as she lets out a sigh. “Please don’t say anything….”
“As long as you promise that I get your ride if you get pregnant,” Natalie offers as both Leilani and Danica chuckle. Sarina lets out a sigh as it immediately brought up January memories, but she couldn’t let the others see as she just faked a chuckle herself.
“That’s not happening,” she tells them. “I have a championship to win this year.”
Their eyes immediately focused back to the action on-track as the race was about to get started. Sarina was set at keeping her nerves about her, and it worked for the very beginning even with the shuffling going on;. However, as soon as Kyle Larson broke right sideways on Lap 8 – almost spinning except for an awesome save, she couldn’t deny that her nerves had picked up big time.
“Oh man….” She lets out as Chase takes the lead on Lap 10, barely sliding up ahead of Denny. The lead was supposed to make you calmer, but seeing it was Denny behind her and the way this pack was going back and forth, that was impossible.
“He’s doing good!” Natalie lets out as she glances over at Sarina. “That’s if you survive….”
“I’ll be fine….” Sarina closes her eyes, silently wishing the race would take longer than advertised – even being as short as it was.
The first 25 laps would ultimately fly by, and Chase managed to do a good job as he stayed up in the top-three throughout. Now set to restart in second, it was just about putting together a great second half.
He started out real well, keeping himself in the mix with Brad, Denny, and others – until a move to shuffle over didn’t go accordingly, causing him to break dead sideways. He’d hold on to it, though, dropping back a couple spots.
“Chasey, don’t do that to your girl…” Leilani offers as she reaches over to rub Sarina’s back, seeing the glance that the move had gotten right away.
“This package is going to make for a great 500 – but hot damn, I can’t handle this!” Sarina lets out as she tries to take some deep breathes.
“He’s good at what he does. He’ll get back up there….”
As predicted, he was able to do so, working his way back up to second before the caution flew with 42 laps to go for an incident further back. Counting her ducklings and nails, she knew the nerves were probably just beginning now.
He was once again strong on the restart, battling for position – but not without many friends. He and Denny tried to make the bottom work together, but once Denny went up high with pretty much the rest of the field, it caused him to slide back to 15th with 26 laps to go.
“Tight on landing in the corners!” She overheard on the radio, having taken her headset up to the grandstands with her.
“Oh man….” She lets out as she knew this would only increase the nerves in watching him drive back up through there.
“He just needs to take some driving lessons from you last night,” Natalie comments as Sarina lets out a shy smile.
However, it just seemed to break back worse as being the last one on the pack and trying to keep up was becoming a task and a half.
“Don’t lose the pack. We’ve lost Newman now,” spotter Eddie D’Hondt says with 19 to go. “We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face, running back here.” Sarina knew by those words that basically, running back there as laps continued to tick down was going to play against them, and likely those dreams of winning were shattered. She also knew that it was the right words to use as the field seemed afraid to make any moves.
“This is a non-points event!” She lets out, causing the other girls to look over caught off-guard. “Somebody, anybody, make a damn move! This is win or bust – so damn well try and win it. Where’s the guts Denny, Austin, Kyle, anybody? This race is falling on its face. Yay, we started off so good – but look at this shit!”
“The moves will come….” Natalie tries to assure her as Leilani rubs her shoulders. “Look at last night.”
Other drivers would try to make moves of their own, but the lines failed to form – causing those drivers to drop back. It worked out in Chase’s advantage as he was able to move up to ninth with 10 laps to go.
Thinking a move would come soon was a blank thought as it never did as the field remained single-file all the way until the last lap. By then, a move to the front was too late as there was no way to make this work now. of course, it’d only get worse as contact between Larson and Johnson triggered everybody going sideways, which sent Chase for a ride through the backstretch grass.
“Of course we ended up with a wrecked car!” Sarina lets out as she shakes her head in disbelief. “That was the most embarrassing race ev-”
“Even more than last night?” Leilani questions and Sarina nods her head.
“Everybody last night at least tried to pass each other, make moves, make something happen, and put on a show. This? Seeing them run single-file for 25 laps is worse than watching paint dry. If this is going to be how Speedweeks goes, I will kill somebody. They better not do this on Sunday.”
“It’s the Daytona 500 – drivers aren’t just going to ride with five to go with that on the line,” Natalie comments as the others nod in agreement.
“I can assure you that I won’t be riding,” Danica adds. “I will say that this gives me a lot to think about. Handling, making runs, making friends, and position will be key.”
“In other words, your man and Ms. Danica here better win their Duels on Thurs-”
“How can we both win the same Duel?”
“Oh my, it looks like we’re going to have some fun.” Natalie then glances between Danica and Sarina. “Can you please make your boyfriend promise to work with her so we know at least somebody will do something?” Danica and Sarina both immediately chuckle.
“I’m sure if we’re both in a good spot, we’ll work together as we have before.” Sarina nods her head in agreement. She knew making promises of that nature wasn’t something for her to do. Chase and Kyle had always reminded her that you couldn’t make those pre-race promises as you never know where you’ll be positioning wise and trying to get in position may cost you more than good.
“Are you going to New Smyrna tonight?” Danica and Leilani both shake their heads no as Natalie’s eyes rest on Sarina. “Well, I know you’re going obviously….”
“I got to go support Todd and Harrison, right?” Sarina offers, knowing both of her KBM teammates were running the event. It was also a benefit to go after Todd had supported her ARCA race yesterday, too.
“As long as you and Chase promise to behave,” Natalie comments as Sarina rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you did that before the race. I can’t even look at you the same now…”
“Sweetheart, you’re just jealous,” Leilani adds as Danica laughs. “It’s okay to admit it. I’m sure Sarina has already heard that from plenty of other girls…”
“I could always try and hook you up with Todd,” Sarina suggests as Natalie rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, you’re jealous…” Natalie then glances back at Leilani, set to punch her. “Hey now!”
“Alright, alright, it’s true,” Natalie finally confesses. “But hey, I can’t do anything about it. I mean, I would smack myself silly if I pissed off my girl and her boo because of that. Besides, they’re like the perfect combination for each other.” Danica couldn’t help but nod her head in agreement. “So when is the engagement party?”
“Not you too,” Sarina lets out as they continue walking out of the grandstands together. “I’ve already got my guys, his guys, Jimmie, and Da-”
“Because it’s meant to be! Is he afraid to pop the question?” Sarina rolls her eyes.
“Nah – he probably just can’t plan the most romantic way to do it,” Leilani offers as Sarina sighs.
“Actually, we’ve talked about it and we’ve both agreed to wait due to my fears because of my past,” Sarina tells them. “I’m afraid of the thought because of what I saw happen to my parents, and he understands that. So if you girls could please just lay off a little, that’d be nice.” The girls nod their heads in acceptance. “Now, excuse me while I go see him…”
“Behave!” Natalie shouts as Sarina walks off, another eye roll easily coming to her.