Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 163: Chase vs. Denny

Sunday, October 29 – Martinsville Speedway

She felt her leg tap nervously as she watched the restart with 39 laps to go, seeing him pull away. Taking a deep breath, everything was fine….

She watched as he didn’t get too far out, though, watching the No. 2 Ford close the gap, silently cursing to herself. If there was anybody she didn’t want to see win, it was Brad Keselowski. Her eyes kept focused, seeing him roll the center, watching as he made the move and got by for the lead with 28 laps to go. Letting out a sigh, so much for the dream….

She shakes her head. She couldn’t think like that. There were still 27 laps now and anything was possible. It had to work out….

She had gotten herself into a relaxed state, silently hoping that Chase was able to work his way back to Brad and get around, though also feeling alright about a runner-up finish. It was a good start to this playoff round, right?

Though like everything had gone throughout the day, the whole day changed once again when the caution flew with 10 laps to go for Joey Logano having a flat tire. Taking a deep breath, the butterflies began fluttering immediately, fingers and toes tapping, nerves a flowing. Anything was possible on a late-race restart at Martinsville.

Her eyes focus on the track with five laps to go, watching Chase and Brad go down into the corner. She watches the bump from the No. 24 Chevrolet to the No. 2 Ford, fist pumping in the air as Brad slides up out of the groove and Chase rolls on by.

“All clear, take it…” She hears Eddie on the radio, her thoughts echoing the spotter.

Her eyes didn’t leave the action before her, watching as Denny quickly moved into second with Kyle in toe. Taking a deep breath, there was nowhere over as Denny was right there, set to make a move. She just glanced down for a quick second, hoping whatever came that Chase held off.

4 to go…..3 to go, and so far he had done an impressive job at the helm. He was running the perfect line, diamonding the corner to perfection, rolling the bottom. He was doing what he needed to do….

“Pushing you,” she hears Eddie over the radio as Denny gets into the back of Chase off turn two, though Chase keeps it straight as an arrow. “2 to go at the line..” She watches as Chase goes into turn three, with Denny close behind. It didn’t seem as if Denny let off the gas or anything, though, as his front bumper immediately met Chase’s rear bumper, sending the No. 24 spinning around.

“Fuck!” Sarina lets out immediately in disbelief as he stands up, shaking her head in disgust. Did that just happen? Did he just dump Chase for no bloody reason at all? Denny’s reason had to do with having no brakes or something, right? There was no way that he would just go do that….

“Douchebag!” She had to agree with Eddie’s words as her body filled with anger. She wished she could strangle Denny and each of his crew members one-by-one in that single moment. She also wished Chase wasn’t such a sweetheart and wouldn’t just go ahead and wreck the dumbass under the yellow.

“Yep, he definitely wrecked me,” she hears Chase and knew that wasn’t even up for debate. It wasn’t like Denny tried to do anything else. The replay confirmed it, too, as his bumper was direct as they come, no slowing down at all. Who in their right mind lifts someone wheel’s up entering the corner?

“I feel your pain, bro….” Eddie’s voice rang through her head as she sat back down, shaking her head in disgust. She could see the reflections on each crew member on the pit box. it was immediate disappointment, almost brink of tears for some of the guys. She could only imagine how Chase was feeling, knowing that she’d be a mix of a heartbroken and anger – actually, she was. There was also disbelief there, too. Did that actually happen?

“Did what happen what I think happened, or am I skewed?” She then hears Chase question over the radio. She shakes her head immediately, knowing how he was at times. He was so hard on himself at times, always over-critical of his own actions, obviously right now questioning whether he did the wrong thing. Clearly, he had done nothing wrong….

“Nah, he drove over your bumper and crashed ya,” Eddie replies, which deserved no other explanation.

“That’s what I figured. 10-4. Good to know. Thanks….”

As the field gets ready to start, there was only one thing that mattered in that moment – Denny better not win this race. She didn’t care who won now, even if it was Brad, as there was no way she wanted to see that No. 11 in victory lane.

She watches the restart, instantly cheering her boss as she watches Kyle dive into the corner, tagging Denny off of turn two and sending him up the track a bit as he squeezes on by.

“Thank you Kyle!” She cheers, watching him take the victory. She was happy for him – if Chase couldn’t win, then let it be her boss. However, that didn’t even begin to eliminate the heartbreak and anger that was remained.

“I feel your pain, bro,” Eddie says over the radio as Sarina just lets out a sigh.

All she wanted to do was get down there, hug Chase, hold him, and assure him that win was coming – and then kick Denny’s ass from here to the other side of the world. Her eyes then find their way t to the monitor, seeing the screens focused on the backstretch. She couldn’t help but smile as she watched Chase run into Denny on the cooldown lap – perfectly deserved.

“Screw him!” Eddie cheers on the radio as Sarina could only laugh in agreement. A punch to the head would be fitting right now.

She watches as the pair come to a stop, both starting to climb from their cars, eyes focused on Chase. She knew how he was when he got angry. she knew the feisty side that he could show, if warranted. Anybody who raced him in late models knew that. She couldn’t help but cross her arms with a bit of pride watching.

“Alright, face-to-face guys, outside the car…” Eddie dictates the action over the radio as Sarina’s eyes stay locked on the screen.

How could this happen? Why did this happen? And what the hell was Denny Hamlin thinking?

Chase was in total belief of what had just transpired in a matter of a couple of laps. One minute, he could potentially see his first career victory; next minute, he was turned around backwards.

It was one thing to bump a guy, give them the bump-and-run, rough them up a little. However, the key was that you didn’t totally wipe the guy’s chances of a decent day or result in heavy damage to his car. You also gave him a chance, should he save it and get back to you, to return the favor.

It was another thing in entirely just wipe a guy out no questions asked – and that’s what had him riled up. He wasn’t going to stand for that, no matter who it was that did it to him to begin with.

That’s why following the event, he made sure to go looking for him, set to send a message and tell him he wasn’t happy and wouldn’t put up with that bullshit. Driving into him was satisfaction for the frustration that he was experiencing.

Following the bumps and seeing Denny stop short of pit road, it didn’t change his views at all. Instead, he was set to actually give him word for word what he thought of him. Throwing the steering wheel on the dash, and the belts off whatever direction they’d go, he began to climb out, set to meet him eye to eye. It was time to be a man and face the consequences of what he did…

“That was bullshit running into me after the checkered!” Denny yells to start, not even fully climbed out. Chase had to chuckle to himself and look back in disbelief. Was this guy serious?

“You’re kidding me, right?” Chase questions back in return as he finishes climbing out, watching Denny come walk up to him face-to-face.

“No matter what, that was ridiculous…..” Chase couldn’t believe this at all….

“You wrecked me….”

“I had someone right on my bumper…” Chase almost laughed back in his face, knowing that wasn’t true as he had glanced up in the mirror once Denny had bumped him off of turn two. He knew exactly where they stood entering the corner.

“There was two car lengths between you and the other guy…”

“I just tried to move you….” Chase almost laughed again, really not believing he was hearing this, especially from someone who had been racing as long as Denny had been.

“You wrecked me, plain and simple…”

“I did not mean to wreck you. I just meant to give you a bump….”The intentions of the actions didn’t really matter at this point. Besides, if you’re going to attempt to use the bumper, you have to know it’s a possibility. Why wouldn’t Denny just own up to it already?

“But you just wrecked me!”

“You got into the 2 car. What’s the difference?” Chase really wanted to laugh in his face now. This was unbelievable….

“Come on man….”

“I got into you just like you got into Brad…” Except Brad wasn’t turned around backwards.

“Come on man…..”

“You know it was just hard racing.”

“You had my back wheels lifted up going into the corner!”

“Whatever…” Denny then turns on the heels, heading back to his car at the request of the NASCAR Official as Chase just shakes his head in disgust.

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

Chase rolls up to where he was told to stop on pit road, sitting back in the seat, shaking his head. He almost broke out laughing as he thought about the excuses and reasons that Denny tried to use for his part in what happened. The anger also hadn’t left him at all, either, along with the disappointment. It was another week that he had been mere inches of winning, and come up short again.

“I want you to be smart here,” he hears, glancing out the window to see Jimmie standing there. “Be smart, watch your words, and don’t lose your true self. Don’t stoop to his level because he’s an ass. You did a great job, and you will win.” He gives Jimmie a simple nod, used to receiving the odd tip of advice here and there.

He climbs out of the car, giving the couple of crew guys a quick hand-shake and nod as he turns around, crossing his arms. There was no way he was just letting this go and moving on as anger was certainly not leaving him no matter what he tried. There was also that sense of disbelief.

His eyes wandered over to where the TV cameras had stopped, getting Denny’s side of the coin first. He actually brought himself to laugh in hearing the amount of boos that were being let out by the crowd. You know you royally messed up when your own home track is mad at you…

He patiently stand there, set to give his take on the action, knowing it was going to be kept simple and to the point.

“My mom always said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. He’s not worth my time,” he tells NBC.

Sarina couldn’t help but smile off to the side at the comment, as her heart remained torn in pieces at what had transpired. It was taking every urge to stop herself from going over and kicking Denny’s ass.

After the interviews were done, she walked over and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, just holding him, as the crew joined her.

“Hey, if he wants to race that way, you know what to do next time,” Alan tells him. “I’m sure he’ll be fine when you lift his back wheels going into the corner at Texas.” Chase lets back a small smile, knowing what Alan was thinking.

However, that wasn’t his style. Revenge and anger and dirty driving were not morals that he had grown to know. Instead, it was focus and driving as hard as you could to put what happened in the rearview.

“Hey, I just wanted to say I hate what happened to you guys,” a new voice pops in from Denny’s crew chief Mike Wheeler. “That was bad…”

“Go tell your smartass driver that,” Sarina spits out, keeping her arms around Chase.

“Excuse me?” Chase then wraps an arm around her in return.

“You heard her,” he starts. “All Denny could do was give me 20 million excuses. Go…” He then turns around, facing away from Mike, but letting his eyes land on Sarina right away.

“I’m so sorry,” she simply says, pulling him close as she puts her head against his chest. “Denny is an asshole. You’ll get that win soon…”

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

“That was utterly insane!” Ryan comments from his seat in the plane.

Following the race, it was a short flight back to North Carolina from Virginia with Ryan, Chase and Sarina all boarding together. For all of them, it was great to just get out of Martinsville as soon as possible.

“But I got to say, I’m proud of you,” Ryan continues as Chase keeps his eyes focused ahead.

“Why is that?” He questions as Ryan smiles, reading over the various tweets on twitter.

“You made the world proud, too. You did a great job from your interview to standing up to him. That’s what you need to do. I’m impressed…” He then glances up from his phone. “Although, you should’ve punched him on behalf of the whole field. He freaking turned down across me and Kurt!”

“So why did you punch Kevin?” Sarina asks, referring to Ryan’s visit with Kevin Harvick. She had been scrolling through twitter herself before they left, and saw a clip of Ryan giving Kevin a small punch. “Well according to him, I brake-checked his ass off the corner earlier in the race and fucked him over at the end of the day. I proudly told him that I wasn’t doing that at all during the race, and it was all freaking Denny’s fault at the end. Needless to say, we disagreed and had a small punch fest.”

“Crazy….” Ryan didn’t care about his deal with Kevin, though. He knew that was going to be forgotten within days. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be the case with Denny….

“So what are you going to do about Denny there, Mr. Pilot?” Chase had been toying with a bunch of thoughts since the conclusion of the race. He wasn’t a dirty racer, but payback was certainly entering his mind big time for what had happened. He wouldn’t mind something happening at Texas….

“I don’t know,” Chase answers. “We’ll just have to wait and see….”

“How about we just forget about it for one night and have some fun?” Sarina suggests, knowing that she could use a good distraction after the chaos.

“Isn’t that why we’re going to Blaney’s epic Halloween party?”

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

Chase glances at himself in the mirror at Ryan’s house, shaking his head. How did he get himself into this mess wearing this costume? He had seen Ryan’s Woody costume and Jordan’s Buzz Lightyear costume and both felt more comfortable than this.

He had totally forgotten about the party, and had not gone costume shopping. So prior the weekend, he informed Ryan in hopes his best friend would help him out. Certainly, Ryan did as he had an extra costume and would allow Chase to borrow it. He didn’t expect it to be this, though.

He almost felt scandalous, a little ridiculous, and knew for sure there was too much skin showing below the waist. Feeling a little shy, he knew every person would probably be analyzing his package.

“Damn….” He hears, recognizing Sarina’s voice and smiling. “I know you bike a lot, but holy damn tone in those legs…” He had to laugh to himself, as he spun to face her. An immediate smile formed, liking her voice – Batgirl. They’d be Batgirl and Robin that night.

“You look just as sexy right now,” he answers back in response. The black leather of the outfit clang to every sweet dear curve on her body, with the skirt long enough to cover but short enough to tease everything below.

“As soon as I heard Ryan had a Robin costume for you, I got Samantha to run a small errand for me. I figured we could match.” She then walks over closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “You make one amazing superhero, but damn, I didn’t expect you to show off as much….”

“Is it too much? I almost feel like chang-”

“No, it’s fine; it’s absolutely fine. Besides, everybody down there will be too caught up in the party to realize. Now, are you ready to go have some fun?”

“Absolutely…” He then takes her by the hand, leading her out of the room and to the stirs with a smile.

It was time to leave behind the Martinsville disappointment and frustration for a night…..

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Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 153: Struggling….

Saturday, September 23 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sarina stood on top of the No. 24 hauler, eyes focused on Chase as he went out for the first practice of the day. She crossed her fingers, hoping that Kenny was able to make the right adjustments so that way he’d be happy with the car for tomorrow. Like they talked about last night, he just needed a solid run.

Her eyes shifted off of the No. 24 car for a bit, though, finding their ways to Bill and Cindy who stood up there watching, as well. Her mind couldn’t ignore the comments from Brittney.

Call her shallow, but she liked to have everybody’s approval. Maybe it was because she was searching for that love and acceptance after having lost it for so long when she was younger. She knew she shouldn’t worry about the comments as certainly Brittney would come around in due time – just like Cindy was. So why was she nervous about the future? What if Brittney never came around?

“There’s something on that mind of yours…” Cindy sounds off as she notices Sarina’s eyes focused on her and Bill. She didn’t want to particular divulge into Sarina’s feelings, but didn’t feel comfortable being watched when there was someone else to be watching.

“Is it that obvious?” Sarina questions and Cindy nods her head as she makes her way over to where Sarina was standing.

“Remember when I said that you could tell me anything?” Sarina nods as she looks back out towards the track. “It’s up to you…”

“How well do you know Brittney?” Cindy thinks it over, as she follows Sarina’s lead of looking out towards the track. She wasn’t particularly close with both girls.

“I know enough to have a solid relationship with her, and to the point that she respects what I have with her father. I’ve never tried to replace the role her mother plays, but we have enough reason to be nice to each other, and understanding. Did something happen on Thursday?” Sarina wondered if she should even say something. Perhaps that was against Brittney’s code.

“She gave me the big sister protective speech…” Cindy chuckles, not surprised one bit. Out of Bill’s daughters, Brittney was closer with Chase than Starr. She also couldn’t see a threat out of Starr with how laid back she could be.

“And you’re surprised? You have a brother. I bet you were protective of him at some point – wait, you were and we all witnessed that.” Cindy pauses, taking a deep breath, knowing that opening old wounds would accomplish nothing. Besides, they were trying to look past what happened then. “You have to understand where she’s coming….”

“Oh, I absolutely get it for sure. I would do the same thing in her shoes – even more so with what has happened between Chase and I since we got together. I mean, that’s why I understood your feelings towards me.” Sarina taps her fingers on the rail. “We’re starting to find that common ground to where we can have discussions like this. How long does it take Brittney to come around?” Cindy could only shrug her shoulders.

“That’s a question for Bill as I don’t know her well enough to say. I will say that she’s a hard egg to crack as I remember months where she wasn’t sure about us dating – however, she came around eventually. When she does come around, though, be prepared for the biggest sweetheart ever as she’s perfect sweet Georgia peach. It’ll come. How long? I don’t know.” Sarina nods her head, accepting. It wasn’t the answer she wanted, but it was certainly something and better than where she started.

“Thanks. I appreciate your honesty.” Cindy pats her on the shoulder.

“You’re loved. You don’t have to worry about that…” Sarina then lets out a sigh as she notices only a mere 10 minutes left in practice, which meant truck qualifying was up right after.

“Well, I have to go get ready for my qualifying session so I will see you both later. Nice talking to you.” Sarina makes her way down the steps as Cindy returns to her previous spot right beside Bill.

“I was surprised to see how you warmed up to her,” Bill comments as he wraps an arm around Cindy.

“She’s not a bad girl after all,” Cindy replies with a smile. “And I supposed we don’t have to kill Kenny either.”

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

Chase finishes up debriefing with Alan, before making his way down the flow of garage stalls, eventually landing himself in Jimmie’s. He waits for his teammate to finish talking with Chad and Ron, before making his way over.

Becoming a common occurrence, the pair immediately found a quiet spot in the garage to sit and share notes.

“Please tell me your car is handling better…” Jimmie comments as Chase lets out a sigh. That’s why he was down there.

“It’s still loose through the corner, but at least the entry is a tick better,” Chase replies as Jimmie nods his head, accepting. If only he and Chad were making the same progress….

“I wish I could give you the magic ticket answer but we’re nowhere closer than we were before. I mean, I don’t even feel the tips on lines here would work just because that sticky crap is dictating everything this weekend.” Chase nods his head, accepting, having noticed that during the session.

“Maybe the trucks will spread the groove out some so it’s not so bad.” Jimmie could only hope that was the case as it may help him make some progress.

“Convince your girlfriend to do that for us, please?” Chase simply chuckles in return. “You couldn’t have just come down here for set-up advice. If so, that’s a wasted trip….”

“Nah, I actually have some other questions for you.” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. This was typical weekend behavior. “There’s like a disconnect in the team right now between Kenny and the guys – something is off in the chemistry. I know it’s not going to be like when Alan and Josh are both here, but this is worse than I thought. You’ve been in these situations.” Jimmie chuckles, remembering some of Chad’s previous suspensions.

“But in those times, Chad was just suspended so Ron took over calling the shots – or if both were suspended, our lead engineer just took it over. I never brought in a whole new face.” Chad nods his head, accepting. So far, he was 0 for two in questions. “Look, we both know that our teams are family – every single person is special in their own way, and together it makes us amazing. In your case, I’m going to guess that’s closer with what has happened this year. Now imagine bringing a new person into that family, or a circle of friends. Ever felt like the outsider?”

“I remember some of my first couple competition meetings before I got to know you and Kasey better…” Jimmie nods, remembering some awkward moments a couple years ago.

“So that’s how Kenny feels right now. He wants to come in and do his thing – lead the team, give you the car that you want, do his job. But he doesn’t know each person’s corks or how Alan runs the ship – how tightly, whether he can crack a joke. What if he says the wrong person and offends a certain crew guy? He may be walking on tippy toes for that. There’s also the fact that you guys haven’t wor-”

“He crew chiefed my limited starts in 2015.” Jimmie had totally forgotten that, and now understood why Rick had chosen Kenny.

“But how much have you changed since then? You’re no longer the rookie who knows nothing and is trying to figure out how the car feels. You’re not a second-year driver who has experience, and is ready to chase after wins and deserving so. You know what it takes now to be successful, right? Maybe that’s where the disconnect is. He’s trying to connect to then, not realizing that growth.” Chase could see how that’d make sense, based on some of the questions asked.

“So what am I supposed to do? Should I just come out and say something?” Jimmie nods his head.

“This is your team. When you’re down a man or two, someone has to stand up and take charge. You’re the driver and this is your guys. You need to step up and say Kenny, this is how things normally go and this has changed since then. Now maybe if you guys realize where that stands, you can make some more progress than you have. I mean, I wouldn’t worry too much since you’re running better than I am, but you can also give it a try.” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“It’s worth a shot, right? I mean, I just need a decent finish Sunday. I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want a solid run so we can move on to the next round.” Jimmie was crossing his fingers that he could do the same, despite seeing dark clouds ahead.

“That’s all we’re focused on here, too. One race at a time, right? We can do this. We may not be where we want to be, but if we stay focused and just do the best that we can, we could get to Homestead.”

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

The advice panned out one way as it certainly helped communication and moral once those thoughts were out in the open, but that was it. The practice produced another rough going as they continued to struggle with the same condition, finding themselves ranked mid-pack in the speeds at the end of the session.

That’s why while sitting on Sarina’s pit box, Chase’s mind was pre-occupied with thoughts about his racecar and ways that he could make it better. Maybe he needed to explain it differently to Kenny. Maybe he wasn’t giving the right complete feedback. Maybe he needed to try something different rather than just expecting Kenny to make the magic adjustment.

Those concerns weren’t there for Sarina at the beginning of her race, though, as she had qualified the No. 18 Toyota Tundra on pole, poised for a strong day. However, her bubble was burst when she got out of the groove a little on Lap 64, going around for a spin.

“I warned her about that,” Chase comments, with a sigh, as he watches her spin it back going the right direction.

It was still early in the race, so he crossed his fingers that she’d be able to make up the ground as long as she stuck to her guns. Unfortunately, her day didn’t improve much as she eventually crossed the finish line in 15th.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he tells her post-race as he wraps his arms around her. “This track is doing that enough this weekend to everybody.”

“Then how is my damn boss able to figure it out?” Sarina answers as Kyle had led both Cup practices earlier that day.

“Because it seems he and Truex have the magic ticket for everywhere right now and can make fairy dust out of shit.” Sarina laughs as she was surprised to see that response. “Want to ask them if we can have Jimmie’s lucky horseshoe back?”

“I can ask – but if they have it, I don’t think they’ll share.” She then lets out a sigh as she leans back against the truck. “I started off so strong, too. I qualified where I needed to, I led laps, and I was up there doing what I needed to do. Got passed by a couple trucks, but hey – that happens. We’ll fix it the next stop? But nope, I had to the jackass rookie…” He just shakes his head.

“You’re a rookie. You’re supposed to make mistakes. That’s how you learn and get better. I’m betting you learned from that, right?” She sighs, nodding her head.

“Patience. Let the truck come to you, don’t push it. You will get them the next run, and it’s better to do that than fuck it up and end up taking yourself out of contention for a good finish.” He nods his head, accepting the lesson that she learned as he pulls her back close.

“Take a deep breath. I know days like these are tough, but you’re getting better each and every week. You continue to impress me, Marcus, Kyle, Sam, everybody else. Your day is coming…” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“It’s just so hard at times because I’m not used to struggling. I’m used to winning. I’m used to kicking ass.” He chuckles as he looks into her eyes.

“See why I was so frustrated at times last year?” She lets out a sigh. “With every level you move up, it gets a little harder. It’s your job to figure out what you need to do to adapt, and continue to get better. You’re doing it, piece by piece. It’ll come…”

“And what about those who say that I don’t deserve to drive for Kyle Bu-”

“Who is saying that?” She glances towards her phone, set to bring up some tweets. “Ignore those people. They’re just armchair crew chiefs who have never driven a racecar before and think turning left is just like cruising to the mall. They have no idea. You can’t judge yourself based on those people. It’s always best to judge yourself based on what you think in your own little head, and the team around you. Has Marcus ever said that you don’t belong here?” She shakes her head. “Then you belong here.”

“So I’m not just another pretty face like Danica?” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“You’re way better than that. You’re an amazing talented driver who has earned her way to this opportunity. You didn’t just get it by stripping layers off, but rather by winning races and getting people to look at you for the right reasons. She can’t say that she’s won the biggest late model events, can she?” She shakes her head. “Stop comparing yourself to everybody, okay?”

“I’ll work on that.” He rubs her hand through her hair, messing it up, which causes her to push him away. “Really?”

“Like I said, beauty isn’t your ticket. Now, what do you say we get out of here, go get something to eat, and forget about this whole weekend so far? I know the perfect place.” She smiles, immediately accepting.

Anything to forget the day that was for now was what she needed.

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

Sunday, September 24

Chase makes his way to the driver’s meeting, taking a seat with Kenny Francis alongside. He smiles as he’s shortly joined afterwards by Dale and Greg.

“Hey,” he says quietly, figuring it was better than sitting there bored until the meeting started.

“Hey,” Dale replies. “I meant to ask you yesterday, actually. Did the website lead to any answers?” Chase nods his head, knowing what Dale meant immediately.

During the week when he got some quiet time to himself without Sarina around as she was at KBM, he had logged on to ancestory.com and began to build the family tree as you were supposed to with the information that you knew. It led to other branches forming, including the fact that her mother had five siblings – all boys. He actually laughed at the thought of her growing up as the youngest in the house. He was also intrigued to see that Sarina’s father had a pair of siblings – one boy and one girl, as well.

He knew combined together, there was an option of finding up to six uncles and an aunt. Of course, the branch that led to Bethany was going to get cut off in his mind as he didn’t need any more connections there.

With the information in hand, he hadn’t gotten a chance to look deeper than that as she had shown up just after he pulled up the information, forcing him to close it immediately as he didn’t want to get caught – yet. He wanted to have something concrete before he told her.

“So I have a chance of finding six uncles and an aunt – minus one of course,” Chase reveals, which Dale understood immediately as he knew Bethany and Sarina were cousins. “I haven’t worked at locating them yet.”

“Well, the website only gives the location if they’re a member and willing to accept a request to share,” Dale offers. “Be careful about doing that, though, as Sarina may have cut some connections purposely. I would ask her before you do that.” Chase lets out a sigh. So much about this being a surprise….

“This is supposed to be a surprise, Dale. I know doing that, there will be chances needed to be taken. Besides, I was going to cross reference some of the names and locations Sarina referenced on Facebook. Maybe I could find something there.” Dale knew that was a gamble and lottery, since many people could have the same names. He also didn’t feel comfortable about strangers being connected, as there was enough going on.

“Don’t do that. My friend said that he’d be willing to check into this for you. So after the meeting, I will give you his e-mail. I need you to send him everything you know so far and let him go from there.” Chase nods his head, accepting. Maybe it was best to leave it to a professional.

“Whatever it takes. I want to give her something, you know?” Dale nods his head, understanding.

While there was hope in the project, that wasn’t matched that day on the track as he ended up 15th. Decent, but certainly not the insurance that he wanted towards transferring to the next round.

He knew entering next weekend at Dover, there was no screwing up at all as he couldn’t risk losing any more points.

Back to Square One – Chapter 24: Their Discussion

Candiss kept her eyes focused on Jimmie, knowing that she needed to figure out these answers. She was either going to make him speak, or go strangle Mitchell until he revealed his reason for saying hi.

“Alright,” she starts. “Who or what did he see?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, trying to find the words.

“You need to say who….” Jimmie states and Candiss felt like she was going to scream as the name to her immediately.

“Don’t tell me. Ronnie?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yeah…” Candiss wanted to run out the door, go down to his house, and strangle him. This was just twisted beyond their control.

“God damn it, Jimmie!” Jimmie takes a deep breath, having felt the same reaction when he learned, too.

“I know…” Candiss knew anger wouldn’t get answers as she focused on gaining whatever knowledge Jimmie knew. If they were heading down this road, she better be educated.

“Did he approach him?” Jimmie shakes his head, remembering Mitchell’s reasoning.

“No, and to his knowledge, Ron wasn’t there with a female nor is there any new female driver sightings.” Candiss knew exactly why Jimmie was stating that with his prior concerns.

“So in other words, we don’t have a Greenlee connection?” Jimmie shakes his head, but didn’t want to rule that out.

“Yeah. But I mean, he promised. Damn it! What bugs me is he made me promise. He was out of it way before me. He was out of it way before I thought of it. He was the one that said all these things that should’ve convinced me and almost had me convinced. But yet, it’s him that’s back in it!” Candiss felt as perplexed as Jimmie as she sat down on the stool in their kitchen.

“I don’t get why he would be there…”

“I don’t either…” Candiss glanced at the counter, knowing there had to be some reason for this.

“Okay. Wait a minute – let’s take a step back. He has a lot going on, Jimmie.” Jimmie nods his head, knowing that’d been a common discussion.

“We’ve been through that….” Candiss takes a deep breath, having a suspicion.

“What if….We know he doesn’t want to talk about it. We’ve seen that with him.” Jimmie nods his head, wishing that wasn’t the case.

“I can’t deny that.” Candiss knew that, too, which brought only one theory to mind.

“What if he is trying to find an escape and he’s toying with the idea of finding that feeling it gave him to escape reality – just like it gave you?” Jimmie shakes his head immediately, not even willing to give that theory one simple thought. There was no way….

“You got to be kidding me….”

“I’m not. I’m serious. What if, Jimmie? Like, it would explain it…”  Jimmie shakes his head, going back to the theory he had from the beginning.

“Or what if Greenlee is involved and he was there, watching, spying on her, knowing? He’s had a crush on her forever so that’d explain why.” Candiss saw the denial in Jimmie and understood it, but still didn’t buy it either.

“That could be, but I don’t see that. I see the other scenario.” Jimmie didn’t care which it was at that moment, to be honest. He just wanted answers, period.

“Well, I need to get to the bottom of this but I don’t want to approach him.” Candiss was surprised as normally, the best friends could talk about anything easily.

“Why not?” Jimmie gave her a ‘really’ glance as he never thought she’d question that motive.

“Do you really think he’s going to come out and tell me?” Candiss sighs, knowing that he was probably right this time.

“You’re right there – and no, you’re not going one night.” Jimmie knew he couldn’t do that no matter how hard he wanted to in this search for answers. There was too much risk involved, and he didn’t want to get back drawn in.

“I wasn’t even thinking of it.” Candiss had another idea, though.

“Maybe I should go….” Jimmie gives her another look, knowing that wasn’t going to fly either.

“No, I don’t want you getting back involved in that. We talked about this…” Candiss glances back towards the counter, wishing things were easier.

“Well, we have to get to the bottom of this somehow. We can’t keep playing this game. I mean, now I see why you wanted me to spy on Greenlee. I could see why she’s someone to be concerned about. I get it, but I’m not the best spy. It’s not like that I can sneak up someone and watch closely. That’s not going to work.” Jimmie nods, accepting. But, that wasn’t what she was asking totally.

“But can you at least try to befriend her? Maybe she’ll at least mention something. Maybe she knows your history.” Candiss felt an instant shock hit her by those words.

“She does?” Jimmie was surprised at how many ‘really’ glances he had to play off today.

“Who doesn’t, Candiss?” Candiss lets out a sigh as she wishes that was different.

“That’s a good point. Actually, that’s a really freaking good point. I mean, I could – or I could go to Dom.” Jimmie shakes his head, immediately. He didn’t need anybody else knowing the truth.

“No, please no, no…. You do realize how overprotective he can be of you, right?” Candiss chuckles, nodding her head. He was like a big brother to her no matter what.

“That’s exactly why I would go to him. He would know what to do. He knows the people. He knows the scene. He knows it better than Mitchell. He would know if there was a new female driver. He would know if Greenlee is involved. He would know if Ron is involved. We could get the answers, and then with those answers, you could approach Ron or could approach Greenlee. You could do something. Hell, you could do something before it’s too late.” Jimmie immediately froze as he didn’t want to hear any part of that.

“Don’t say those words.” Candiss knew better as she could see right through those brown eyes before hers.

“You know it’s damn well true on your mind. You’re worried that we’re going to repeat what happened, again. I bet you if people figure out that it’s Ron Malec, someone is bound to take advantage – same way as they took advantage of you immediately.” Jimmie knew that was possible, but didn’t see that happening.

“They didn’t know who I was.” Candiss rolls her eyes, knowing that was just an excuse.

“No, but they took advantage because of you hiding your identity. They see that with Ron if he is hiding and believe it is you, again. They’ll try and take the advantage. Or, if he comes out with who he is, they’ll try and take the advantage. We need to stop something before it happens because you know, we can’t do this again. He cannot have something happen again. We already got enough trouble right now.” Jimmie nods his head, knowing that she was right. There was too many questions already.

“You think Dom would keep it on the downlow if you were to ask him? Like, I don’t want anybody else to find out.” Candiss nods her head, remembering from previous times that their trust knew no boundaries.

“Yeah, pretty sure he would. I mean, he cares about me and in connection, he cares about you. I mean, you saw how much he helped you before.” Jimmie nods his head, remembering.

“Yeah…”

“And I mean, he did convince Chad to lay off of us, so that says something. I just feel he would know.” Jimmie nods his head, once again. Anything was worth a shot, right?

“Give him a call. Go ahead. Do what you can. I told Mitchell to keep me posted if he figures out anything and you give Dom a call and figure if he can figure out anything. In the meantime, I’m going to keep my close eye on Mr. Ron and make sure things are easy, peasy.” There was still someone they hadn’t discussed much, and filled the curiosity for Candiss.

“Alright. What about Greenlee?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, wishing he could just confront her.

“What about her? You said you can’t spy and won’t do it!” Candiss puts her hands up in the air, knowing that wasn’t up for discussion.

“I’m not doing it, but she’s connected, Jimmie. I just think we should keep an eye on both of them.” Jimmie nods his head, already having that in mind.

“I already got my eye on her. I made that clear already.” Candiss nods her head, remembering that discussion clearly.

“Alright. You do that, and I’ll get a hold of Dom. We’ll figure this out. I mean, for all we know, it could be nothing.” Jimmie could never believe that, ever.

“Nothing doesn’t spell Ron being there. He wouldn’t be there for no reason.” Candiss takes a deep breath, knowing that Jimmie was probably right.

“Okay, what I mean is it could be nothing to worry about. He could just be checking in with a friend. Maybe he was taking in the scene, bored that night.” Jimmie knew that possible, but could never believe that ever.

“Alright…maybe…. Just I don’t see that…” Candiss nods her head.

“I know, but you never know. Regardless, we’ll handle this…” She reaches out for his hand, squeezing it, catching his eyes. He could only nod his head in response.

“Alright…”

Back to Square One – Chapter 23: Growing Concerns….

After a busy day, Jimmie makes his way into the house, just wanting to relax. While occupied by team conversations and interviews, his mind had also been going a mile a minute with concerns surrounding the news he learned earlier in the day.

Was he worried over nothing? Should he confront Ron? Should he talk to Greenlee?

He makes his way into the kitchen, grabbing himself a drink, figuring he’d sip on that while watching a bit of television before putting focus towards dinner that night.

“Hey,” Candiss says as she enters the kitchen, having come downstairs once she heard someone. Normally, Jimmie would call out to her.

“Hey,” he replies as he walks over, giving her a quick kiss.

“Are you okay?” He then glances back, caught off-guard by the question. Why was she able to read him so well?

“I’m alright….” She lets out a sigh, knowing that was a big load of crap.

“You don’t look alright.” Jimmie then leans back against the wall, taking a deep breath. He so badly just wanted to spill everything then and there.

“I don’t know. It just seems….” He glances away, only looking back when she grabs his hand to catch his gaze again.

“Talk to me. What’s wrong?” Jimmie looks back down, knowing that it wouldn’t be fair to say something.

“I don’t know….” His voice was so quiet she barely caught a single word.

“What?” He takes another deep breath.

“I don’t even know if I can explain.” She was caught off-guard, as normally they could tell each other anything. Why was now different?

“Something happen at the shop today?” Jimmie knew that wouldn’t work for a cover-up as he couldn’t conceive a good enough story.

“No, it’s nothing like that. I mean, everything is great. We had a good run, everybody is happy, Chad and I are finally back on the same page.” Candiss had to chuckle based on the past couple of weeks.

“That’s a miracle…” Jimmie nods his head in agreement.

“You’re not kidding me. It took awhile for that.” The revelation now made Candiss even more concerned, though. What else could be bugging Jimmie?

“But yet, you’re coming home looking like you’re all upset…” Jimmie wishes he could just hideaway now.

“I just got something on my mind.” Candiss was pretty sure that was established already. Repeating to avoid speaking was not like Jimmie.

“Well then let’s talk about it, you know?” Jimmie glances back down, debating once again whether he should say something. It’d give him peace of mind and another view, but did he want her knowing what was going on too? Would it breaking trust?

“I don’t know if I should…” Candiss found herself becoming more puzzled by the minute.

“What do you mean you don’t know if you should? Like, is it some secret?” Jimmie knew it was exactly that, but wasn’t going to come out and say it. It’d just make her suspicious and that could cause more headaches than he needed right now.

“Well, a bit…” Candiss crosses her arms, feeling her intrigue growing.

“Well, you know I’ll never tell your secrets. I never have. Besides, remember when we first met? You could always tell me everything. Like, we sat at the diner and you know we shared the stories of how it was an escape for you, where as you seem like a cool calm guy there’s pressure that bugs you, or eats at you. Remember that?”  Jimmie couldn’t forget those moments as that was when he knew she had to be a part of his life forever.

“Yeah, that’s when you told me your life story.” Candiss nods her head, still surprised at how confessional she had gotten so quickly with him then.

“Exactly. I didn’t tell nobody…” Jimmie nods his head, remembering. He did appreciate her trust during that time.

“I know…” Candiss automatically thought that’d open the flood gates.

“Well? Why don’t you just start talking?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t escape now.

“Promise no matter what I tell you, you’ll keep it between us?” Candiss felt her heart cringe with fear, but knew she had to agree if she was going to get the answers she wanted.

“100% – unless it’s threatening to your life, or I feel you’re in danger, I will not tell a soul. If it comes to the point of telling somebody, I will go to Ron-”

“No, don’t say Ron.” Candiss now felt herself even more perplexed. Ron was always the person to go to.

“Why? Is there some issue between you guys?” Jimmie shakes his head. At least there wasn’t a problem right now, anyway.

“No…Well….No.” Candiss raises her eyebrows, not convinced by his answer.

“Jimmie?”

“No, it’s not between us. I just don’t want you going to him if something is going on because he has enough going on.” Candiss nods her head, remembering the situation that was there.

“Okay, good point.” She quickly ran through a list of names, trying to figure out their best option. “Chad. I’ll go to Chad.”

“Yeah, sure. That’ll go over well…” She knew that’d be his reaction.

“Well, who else would you want me to tell?” Jimmie thought it over, but knew the options were limited. Hopefully they never reached that point.

“There’s nobody else. We’ll just stick with that.” Candiss was glad that they were finally making some progress.

“Alright, fine. So tell me, please. I mean, I want to help you. I’m not trying to be an asshole.” Jimmie knew that and wished he could just spit out the words. Why was this so hard?

“I know…It’s…Fuck! It’s just I’m not supposed to say anything. It’s just a weird coincidence and there’s so many layers to it.” Candiss felt her stomach do the familiar flip flop once again.

“You’re scaring me. Like, this is how the other deal began….” Jimmie knew it sounded like that, and had fears for Ron. But wanted to believe this was nothing like that.

“This is nothing like that. Don’t worry. There’s nobody after me like that.” Candiss felt relieved, but still nervous. Normally by now, they’d be figuring out a solution.

“Then what the hell is going on? Like, there’s got to be something to the point that you’re freaking out on me like this. You don’t just freak out for no reason, you know? That’s not your style. I mean, it’s not like you freaked out the last time something happened. Remember that?” Jimmie nods his head, knowing how he handled the situation. Of course, he had made mistakes and regretted those. What if those were the cause for now?

“Yeah, I do. Of course I do. Do you think I’d ever forget that, ever?” Candiss shakes her head, knowing that was a dumb question.

“Okay, that’s true. But I’m serious Jimmie! Just tell me…” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t stammer any longer.

“Okay. Mitchell came to see me.” Candiss immediately walks away, rolling her eyes. She could’ve killed him at that moment.

“Oh great…No no, no no, no no, please tell me you’re not going back, because we damn well talked about this shit.” Jimmie puts his hands up, should’ve knowing that’d be her first reaction.

“No, no. I told you I’d never do that again, and fuck I promised you, promised myself, promised Chad, promised everybody.” Candiss remembered that, but also knew promises were just spoken words. However, she trusted Jimmie’s word.

“Well, that’s a start…” Jimmie grabs her hand, catching her attention.

“I swear I’m not going back to that. That’s not me…anymore.” Candiss nods her head, accepting, as she looks straight into his eyes.

“Well, so why did Mitchell come to see you? I mean, that’s the only time you ever talk to him. It’s not like he’s big at social gatherings. We didn’t get together and sing kum-bye-yah.” Jimmie laughs, remembering a casual memory of drinks one night celebrating.

“At some point we did.” Candiss could only roll her eyes.

“Point proven…..”

“Okay….He came by the shop, though.” Now she wanted to punch him for stammering again. However, a stop by the shop was a little surprising. Normally Mitchell avoided all direct connections.

“You told me he came to see you already. But damn it, spit it out! Will you? I hate when you do this!” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he had to get to the point eventually.

“He had to deliver a part to the spot to somebody – a well-known person that he knows.” A bunch of faces and names immediately flood through Candiss’ brain.

“Do we know this person?”

“I don’t even know! I don’t even know who he delivered to, okay? I just know that he said he had to deliver a part to the hill, and he showed up early. But he stayed around – curiosity, I guess.” Candiss nods her head, accepting. That was true to Mitchell’s character.

“I can’t say I blame him. I mean, it’s good for business in one way.” Jimmie nods his head, remembering what he saw from his time spent there back in the day.

“Yeah, it is good for business. Fuck, I can’t deny that. I mean, I saw the people that go there. You wouldn’t believe who goes there.” Candiss raises her eyes brows, actually curious.

“Oh yeah?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Oh yeah – all the top guys.” Candiss was intrigued, but knew that this was a simple distraction from the truth. They needed to get back on track.

“So, he stuck around?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yep.”

“And he saw something that made him come see you?” Jimmie nods his head, once again.

“Well….yeah. I mean, he thought maybe I should know.” Candiss crosses her arms, intrigued.

What was important for someone not involved anymore to know?

Back to Square One – Chapter 22: Mitchell’s Visit

Monday

Mitchell drives up to the shop, in total awe and shock, as he could not believe how big it was. He knew his buddy drove for a big NASCAR team and heard that their shop was enormous, but nothing could prepare him for the sight before him.

Driving up the property, he didn’t want to have to do things this way. He would’ve rather called Jimmie and asked him to come over and spoke over the phone. But, he couldn’t find his number since Jimmie changed everything after what happened. So here he was instead, looking for his friend…

He didn’t know where to begin to start, as it was building after building after building. How was he supposed to know which one to Jimmie in? Maybe one of these had a secretary…

As he goes around a corner for what seemed like the billionth time, he stumbles upon a familiar white Tahoe and a familiar brown haired man. Finding Jimmie had been easier than expected. He immediately drives into one of the first parking spots – obviously getting some curious glances from those around the area – before jumping out of the car and heading over. His approach even caught the eyes of some crew members arriving for the day, wondering if some crazy fan was there.

“Jimmie?” Mitchell speaks out loud, catching Jimmie’s attention.  It was like immediate confusion.

“Mitchell?” Jimmie questions back in response. “What are you doing here?” Mitchell takes a deep breath, hating the very thought of even having this conversation.

“I came to see you. I need to talk to you about something….” Jimmie was intrigued and now really confused. For one, the approach was not normal, and if Mitchell needed to see you right away, it was always important.

“Really?” Mitchell nods his head, hoping he was getting somewhere.

“Yeah, I really need to talk to you.” Jimmie didn’t know what to say as he noticed their conversation had caught Chad Knaus’ attention, as well. He was hoping these two would never meet each other.

“Oh, okay.” Seeing the curious glance on the crew chief’s face, as well as the lingering crew members with thoughts of stalker, Jimmie knew he had to calm some of the nerves. “Chad, this is Mitchell. Mitchell, this is Chad…”

“Oh,” Chad states calmly, still feeling a whirl of confusion. Only people whom he recognized were ever in this back parking lot. He almost wondered if this was a spy. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Mitchell simply replies, not knowing what much to say. He had heard stories of Chad’s stern nature, and worried about being at the other end of it.

“Do I know you, or can I help you? I mean, there wasn’t supposed to be any outside meetings on my schedule today.” Mitchell was intrigued by the questions, but was beginning to understand as he saw the various employee shirts surrounding him.

“No no, don’t worry. I’m just here to see Jimmie.” Chad then glances between the pair, intrigued. It wasn’t like Jimmie’s friends just randomly showed up at the back part of the shop any day.

“Yeah, he’s a long time friend, Chad,” Jimmie states. “You don’t have to worry.” Chad was caught off guard by the extra comment as normally there was no need for Chad to worry anyway.

“Oh, okay,” Chad simply replies. “Long time friend, huh?” Mitchell nods his head.

“Yeah, I’ve known him and Ron for years,” Mitchell states as Chad simply accepts the fact. Glancing back at Jimmie, his mind began to wonder about many things. Something was fishy here….

“Oh, I see. That’s always interesting…” Jimmie could tell by Chad’s tone that he was beyond curious about their relationship. He also knew he didn’t want to cause another riff as they had barely survived the first time through this chaos.

“Mitchell, let’s just come out and say it because obviously he’s figuring something is going on here,” Jimmie starts, causing Chad to look at him, now really curious. “He was the one that facilitated everything before. Like the fact that we had identity cover-up, and the fact that we played it off as if I was someone else, and the technology behind it. He was basically my coordinate.”

“Oh, wow….” Chad simply let out, almost brought to the point of being speechless. He was certain they were done with every trace to what happened. Why did reminders seem to keep popping up every which way he looked? “Well, umm….wow. And yet, you’re here? And you’re still hanging out with him?”

“Chad, I can promise you…”

“Look, I’m not here for any of that,” Mitchell interrupts, seeing the tension growing between the pair. It was never his intension to cause issues there as he was glad to see Jimmie had moved on well since what happened. “I can promise that, Chad. I know you don’t trust me and you just met me, but I’m not here to wrangle Jimmie back in or get him back involved anyway.  I mean, really in reality, I didn’t want him involved to begin with. I was actually was the one that told him it was a bad idea, too, and pulled out.”

“He’s not lying, Chad,” Jimmie insists, remembering the trail of events clearly. He could recall the anger he had towards Mitchell that day and the fact the pair had barely talked since. It’s why this meeting had caught him beyond off-guard. “He’s telling the truth.”

“Wow….okay,” Chad comments, glancing between the pair, confused as ever. He still didn’t trust either one of them and wished they had cameras out back now. “So I’m just supposed to believe that you two are no longer associated in any fashion anymore like that.”

“No, we’re not,” Jimmie states. “I mean, we still talk like friends and hang out, but I’m not involved in that – I swear.” The whole still friends and hanging out – total lie, but he was willing to do what it took to get Chad off of his back right now.

“I’m not either,” Mitchell adds. “I mean, to be honest, I basically stay busy with my business in fixing cars. I own a shop just up ther-”

“Nervous or something?” Chad questions, catching hesitation every couple of words. “You just seem you’re stumbling on your words.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, knowing he was digging the hole deeper as Jimmie tried to cover it up.

“No no, I’m not nervous. I’m just trying to get on your good side. I just don’t want to cause any problems.” Chad nods his head, beginning to see a bit of light. Maybe he shouldn’t had been quick to judge after all. But just in case, a phone call to Dom once again was probably in order.

“I perfectly understand, but you’re not causing any though. If you say you’re not and he says he’s not, then it’s fine. I mean, I don’t have anything to worry about. I trust him.” Mitchell nods his head, accepting. It was nice to see that the relationship between Chad and Jimmie he heard about was still there.

“That’s good.”  Chad then reaches out his hand, shaking Mitchell’s in return.

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”

“It was nice meeting you, too.” Chad then glances over at Jimmie, cautiously.

“Jimmie, I need you inside soon….” Jimmie nods his head, knowing the Monday morning drill.

“I’ll be right in,” Jimmie states as Chad heads off, going inside the doors.

“Dude, I am so sorry,” Mitchell begins immediately, catching Jimmie’s attention. “I did not mean to cause issues between you two.”  Jimmie glanced towards the door, before looking back at Mitchell. Chad certainly had a way about him.

“Don’t even worry. It’s fine.” Mitchell wasn’t quite convinced based on Chad’s reaction.

“Are you sure?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Absolutely. I mean, the reality is I get why he’s concerned. It caused a lot of headaches, and issues, and problems, and I know he doesn’t want to go back down that road. I mean, he didn’t even want to go down that road to begin with. I mean, hell, at times I’m pretty sure he would’ve thrown me and Ron out of here. So, why did you come to see me anyway?” Mitchell takes a deep breath, not sure if this was such a good idea now. What if it resulted in action being taken without a sense of reason?

“I need to talk to you about something.” Jimmie now found the previous concern returning.

“I don’t like the sound of your voice. I mean, you just said to him that we were out of this.” Mitchell lets out a sigh, as that was the truth – but yet, some connections remained.

“Dude, I’m not trying to draw you in or anything, or get advice, or get your help or anything. That’s not why I’m her-”

“Then why are you here? Just spit it out man, and get to the point. I’m not going to play this fucking game all day.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, knowing that letting Jimmie get frustrated before telling him was not going to help one bit.

“I saw Ron last night up at the mountain.” Jimmie’s jaw drops immediately, shock forming.

“You saw Ron Malec up on the mountain?” Mitchell nods his head, hoping it would begin to set in.

“Yeah, I did. I was over there because I had to drop off a part to somebody before they started. I hung around and saw him up there.” Jimmie was in immediate disbelief. It was Ron that wanted him to get out. Ron had pulled the plug before Jimmie even got close too. That life had also resulted in everything else going on. Why would he go back?

“Was he doing anything?”  Mitchell shakes his head.

“No, he was just overlooking.” Jimmie wanted to scream in an instance as an idea popped in his head. His suspicions about Greenlee may be true after all.

“Was there a female with him?” Mitchell then looks on confused. When did Ron get a girlfriend, or was Jimmie referring to Candiss?

“Female?” Jimmie nods his head as he crosses his arms.

“Yeah – just answer the question! I need to know if there was a female!” Mitchell felt his anxiety pick up, along with curiosity. Was something going on that he hadn’t realized?

“I didn’t see one.” Jimmie knew that didn’t end the suspicions though.

“Is there a new female driver around that you would casually think of or have seen?” Mitchell shakes his head, although he wasn’t in tune with the scene anymore.

“No. Why?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing Mitchell was in for a shock.

“Remember Greenlee?” Mitchell’s jaw drops immediately.

“Of course! She moved off to Pine Valley. We were all upset. What? Is she in town?” Jimmie nods his head, hoping Mitchell would put the pieces together so he wouldn’t have to.

“Yeah, and she’s staying with Ron.” Mitchell knew immediately what was going on, as he glanced away.

“Ah shit…” Jimmie was glad to hear that response as it confirmed he had a right to be suspicious. “So you’re thinking…”

“I’m just wondering. I don’t know. Fuck.” Mitchell could see by the reaction on Jimmie that there was a mix of thoughts.

“I’m just telling you. I thought I’d let you know…” Jimmie nods his head, not feeling one drop of anger at Mitchell. He actually appreciated the confession more than Mitchell appreciated.

“I appreciate it. Thank you. He’s going through a lot right now.” Mitchell wondered if something else happened as he looked at Jimmie, curiously.

“Really?” Jimmie nods his head, knowing he could trust Mitchell in knowing the information.

“The whole thing that happened is still bugging him….” Mitchell relaxed, glad that something new wasn’t going on beyond Greenlee.

“Oh, I see…” Jimmie could almost pace around the parking lot right now as he tried to find the right words to say.

“I mean, I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, do I casually let him deal with it, or do I push him?” Mitchell already knew the answer, based on experience.

“You can’t push him, Jimmie. You know that…” Jimmie lets out a sigh, knowing that Mitchell was probably right.

“I know.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, trying to find his own words to say.

“Listen, just keep doing what you’re doing. He knows you’re there so that’s what matters. As far as I’m concerned, you can mention this or not – it’s up to you. I’m not going to say anything as it’s your call, because you’re handling things. But if we do per chance cross paths, I will let him know that he can always reach out to me. And if he does go back there, I will let you know.” Jimmie appreciated the offer, as he glanced around, before turning back to Mitchell. Something wasn’t adding up about Ron’s appearance there.

“He made me promise not to go back there, first. I don’t see him going back…” Mitchell had to admit it was a little strange.

“I don’t either…”

“That’s why I’m thinking she’s maybe involved…” Mitchell nods his head, seeing how the theory could be true.

“Listen, I don’t know-”

“Can you check your sources? You have great resources.” Mitchell lets out a sigh, knowing it was the least he could do.

“Alright, I’ll check. I’ll see what I can find for you.” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. It was a start.

“Thanks. Also, just don’t stay anything if you see him or her either.” Mitchell could see the reasons why behind Jimmie’s behavior.

“Of course not. She doesn’t know you’re worried?” Jimmie laughs, already making his point clear.

“Ah, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I’m trying to get comfortable with her, but something about this just seems off.” Mitchell nods his head, understanding.

“Well, I will let you know…” Jimmie hoped it led to some answers as he didn’t know what else to do.

“Alright. Well, I better let you go as Chad wants me…” Mitchell knew he better not interfere in work or else Chad may kill them both.

“You better or he’ll kick your ass if you’re not there.” Jimmie laughs, knowing that was true beyond any shadow of doubt.

“Yeah, no kidding. Keep me posted with whatever you find out.” Mitchell nods his head.

“Of course.”

Jimmie then heads inside, making his way up the second floor and down the hall to Chad’s office. He couldn’t worry about that conversation anymore as he had work to get done.

“What was that about?” Chad wonders as Jimmie enters the office. Jimmie admittedly wasn’t surprised by the question, but wasn’t about to tell Chad the truth – yet.

“He just wanted to ask me something,” Jimmie answers, which wasn’t a total lie.

“Oh. Anything interesting?” Jimmie knew he had to come up with something and fast.

“Ah, not really. Just some pointless car question he couldn’t figure out for a customer. He wanted to know my take on it.” Chad could only wonder if that was the truth as it seemed odd somebody would show up like that with that type of question.

“Oh. He should’ve brought it up before I left. I mean, I know my way around.” Jimmie smiles, having no doubt about that.

“I know. It’s just he doesn’t know you, Chad.” Chad nods his head as that was obvious.

“Right…” Jimmie then sat down, peering over the notes that were before him.

“Anyways, why did you want to see me for?” Chad now looked at Jimmie, confused.

“Set-up? Post-weekend discussion? What else do we do on Mondays?” Jimmie now realized how dumb his question was. He needed to stop thinking about what Mitchell said…but he couldn’t….

“Oh, of course. Right.” Chad raised his eyebrows, now really curious about what happened.

“Are you alright?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Chad takes a deep breath, almost regretting these next set of words.

“You do know if anything is going on, you can tell me?” Jimmie nods his head, trying to shoo away those thoughts more than ever.

“I would, and promise me – it’s not what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t risk it again. You know that.” Chad nods his head, accepting, but also questioning the emphasis put on the response.

“I know…”

Back to Square One – Chapter 21: Coca Cola 600

Greenlee sat on the pit box, fingers crossed, hoping that they had the speed on the long run to snag the lead and a possible win. While this had originally been a simple job, she found herself caught up in the emotions with the rest of the guys, anxious about their chances at victory.

If they could just find a bit more speed…..

In the end, they came up short of the ultimate goal, crossing the finish line in third. While it wasn’t the dream victory, it was improvement after the past couple of weeks.

“Nice job everybody!” Chad says, before climbing down the steps and heading over to see Jimmie.

“I saw you getting excited….” Ron whispers over Greenlee’s shoulder as they put everything together.

“How could I not get caught up in the moment?” She questions with a smile.

“Hey, it’s fine. Actually, I’m glad to see that. It just means that this is working out better than planned. Now you’re seeing why I love this job so much.” She nods her head, accepting.

“How do stand the nerves at times, though?” He laughs as he puts everything together.

“It comes with practice, but trust me – it eats at me more than I show on the surface. I mean, it’s not just my team, but my best friend, right?” She nods her head. “Alright, you got everything together?”

“Yeah, I’m good to go.” They both climb down the steps, heading towards the car. “So Jimmie is doing interviews, and then once they’re done we load up?” Ron could only chuckle in response. This was going to be another new experience for her.

“We all wish it was that easy, but that’s far from the case. Once NASCAR gives the guys the go ahead, the car gets pushed back to the garage area and goes through post-race inspection. Basically, everything we did pre-race, along with some other stuff. NASCAR may also take the car back to their Research & Development center for further inspection, too.” Greenlee was taken back by the process, but totally understood why it was done in the name of fair game. She could also understand now why Ron referenced some weekends including really late nights, like this would probably be.

“Well, I guess we got some wor-”

“That’s for me and the guys. As per your job description, all the race notes are to be typed up, as well as data downloaded from the electronic fuel injection. Just follow your normal protocol – but maybe once, we’ll both get to go home done our work at the same time.” She nods her head, accepting. It seemed easy enough – even if she wondered whether she’d ever get her own hands dirty in the garage.

“I can follow the job guidelines….” Ron smiles as they reach the car. She takes the notes that Ron and Chad had put together, placing them in her usual binder, while he leaned on the back waiting for the call to be made from the officials.

As he takes a deep breath, he was glad that he had gotten a good night sleep for a change. So much for getting out of there a little early….

The night was as busy as expected, with the team spending hours going through the process as required by NASCAR. As they were finishing up, Jimmie made his way over, changed out of his firesuit into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Being close to home, there was no worries in having to make departure time or getting home too late.

“Hey,” he says as he comes over and sits down beside Ron. Normally, he liked to check in and make sure they passed inspection so he got no surprises mid-week. “We good?”

“Passed with flying colors,” Ron answers with a smile. It was re-assuring to see that as it meant the work they’d put in was all legal as ever, and worthwhile. You never wanted to put months of research into improving a program and get disqualified in the first good run with it.

“Everybody else pass, too?” Ron nods his head, knowing the reference was made in regards to Martin Truex Jr. it was crazy to see how fast they were at times.

“They still haven’t found what they’re doing – if anything.” Jimmie nods his head.

“And how are you doing, honestly?” Jimmie was set to focus on just race discussion, but his heart immediately reached out to Ron in wanting to see how his best friend was doing. If he couldn’t pick Greenlee apart and get Candiss to spy, then he might as well check on Jimmie.

“I’m doing good. I got a good night sleep last night, I’m feeling healthy, and I’m happy. What more can I say?” Jimmie nods his head accepting as it was nice to hear the positivity. But he also had to wonder about everything else, too.

“I meant about the other, Ron. I mean, how are you handling that?” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing the question was coming. It was also known that he couldn’t just brush it off with Jimmie, either. He wished he could say it was handled and dealt with, but he knew that Jimmie would never believe that in a million years.

“I haven’t really addressed that, yet….” Jimmie rolls his eyes, realizing they were getting nowhere.

“It’s not going to just improve itself over night. You need to do something…” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing that Jimmie was right. But what was he supposed to do first? “Talk to Greenlee, talk to me, talk to Chad, talk to somebody – please. You need to get those feelings out in the open…”

“I know. You don’t have to lecture me, Jimmie. I get this more than anybody. I deal with it every day, remember?” Jimmie nods his head, taking a deep breath. Maybe he needed to lay off a little.

“I deal with my end of it, too. It compares nothing to what you went through, but there’s regret and blam-”

“What did I tell you abo-”

“I know, but sometimes it creeps back in – especially when I know it’s still bugging you.” Ron now felt that guilt, not wanting to push the emotions beyond himself.

“Look, you don’t have to worry. I’ll work it out. We always work things out, right?” Jimmie nods his head. “And for the record, you can stop spying on Greenlee. You don’t need to worry about anything. It’s not like we’re together.”

“It’s not like you haven’t thought about it, though…” Ron couldn’t deny that as he glanced away from his best friend.

“When I hear how much she still misses Ryan and Leo, I can’t bring myself to ask her, make that move. What if I push the boundaries too soon? What if I repeat the cycle for her? Maybe we’re just best as friends…” Jimmie smiles, having heard these tales before. He was set to be getting ready to be a best man in a couple years, right?

“Whatever you do, trust your heart. It’ll lead you to happiness.” Ron nods his head as he glances over at Greenlee continuing to type up notes.

Back to Square One – Chapter 20: “You’re asking me to spy for you?”

Friday – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Jimmie lets out a sigh as he stands back, watching the furious sea of activity around the 48 car.

His eyes then drifted towards the blond in their stall, watching as she furiously typed away on the computer. He knew she had a new batch of notes from Chad, Ron, and the engineers after practice and the debrief, which meant she was going to busy for awhile.

Crossing his arms, he so badly wanted to believe in her. He wanted to trust her fully, and make her one of the team. He also had a good feeling about her based on Ron’s reaction, Chad’s reaction, and what he’d seen so far. However, he still had to wonder.

What if she was up to something? It wasn’t like she had a princess past, and it wasn’t like she didn’t know how to mess with someone. Knowing how vulnerable Ron was right now, he wondered if she was her next victim and the team was going to be a by-product.

“You look like you’re in your own little world,” Candiss says as she walks up behind him, wrapping her arms around. “How was the car?”

“Not bad, I guess,” Jimmie answers. In truthfulness, it had been better than the past couple of weeks – but still not where he believed the 48 team should be.

“You guys are going to be fine. You, Ron, and Chad always figure it out…” Jimmie knew that as he nodded his head in response. It didn’t make the down times any easier, though. Glancing back at her, he got an idea.

“Say, you don’t have a lot of friends around the tracks….” Candiss was caught off-guard by the comment, but felt the need to go with it.

“Amy, Ingrid, Jordan, Sherry, Delana, Krissie – I get along with some of the girls.” Jimmie knew that, but still figured this would work to his advantage.

“Greenlee is new to the area and doesn’t know anybody. I figure you girls could get close with the team always being together. You may even have some things in common…” Candiss then looks at Jimmie, questionably. He never pointed out friends for her, knowing that she wasn’t one to let down her guard easily.

“Something is up, am I right?” Jimmie laughs as he looks back towards her.

“She’s getting awfully cuddly with Ron.” Candiss could only roll her eyes.

“And being his best friend, you want to watch out for him and don’t trust her?” Jimmie nods his head. “What about her instincts at Tallad-”

“Past experience could easily make that look good.” Jimmie takes a deep breath as he goes to face Candiss. “Look, Ron is vulnerable right now. I would usually trust his choices, but I’m fully sold on Greenlee. All I’m saying is hang out with her some, get to know her, see what she’s like, and give me the lowdown.”

“So in reality, you’re asking me to spy for you?” Jimmie wished she wouldn’t had figured out the plan.

“Maybe I am. But she could also be a great addition to the group…” Candiss glances over, before returning her eyes to Jimmie. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“I can’t do that, Jimmie. I’m not the type to spy on people and play gam-”

“Oh really? That seems strange considering how we met.” Candiss sighs, knowing she had set a double standard. However, that was a different situation.

“We’ve all changed from then, remember? Live, learn and move forward.” Jimmie knew that, but it didn’t change his nerves.

“I just don’t want to be blindsided by something again; hence keeping an eye on her.” Candiss looks back over at Greenlee, before turning back to Jimmie.

“I can’t, Jimmie…” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. He wasn’t going to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Alright, no problem at all. I just thought I’d ask and consider.” Candiss then pulls Jimmie close, as she keeps her eyes on Greenlee.

“Take a deep breath, and relax. Not everybody is out to do you harm. Sometimes second, third chances are what people need as sometimes they’re dealt a bad hand. Take the good out of her, and cross your fingers. Also, believe in your best friend. Ron is a good judge of character. He’ll read her like a book.” Jimmie wanted to believe those words, but couldn’t help but think back to the recent office conversation.

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

Following all of the racing that day, Greenlee retreated back to one of her first spots that she found in town and enjoyed – Lake Norman.

Sitting on the rocks, it reminded her of those strolls along the water with Ryan. It also reminded her of the time they hid out together, along with the park. Her memory continued to flash back through a series of thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, she glances down at the wedding band on her finger, rubbing it gently, before looking out to the water once again.

“I miss you more than I realize sometimes,” she lets out quietly as a couple tears come down her eyes. She then feels an arm wrap around her, almost flashing back to how Ryan would hold her, but then noticed immediately it was Ron.

“I figured when you didn’t come home you were here,” Ron comments as she nods her head.

“I just can’t let go…” He understood that as he kept her held close.

“You never will let go, Greenlee. He’ll always be a part of you no matter what.” She knew he was right, having been through that with Leo. Even though she moved on with Ryan, Leo never left her heart ever.

“Why does it hurt so bad?” Ron shook his head, not knowing why. “It comes and goes, too. It just hit me when I was leaving the track and I just automatically brought myself here. Other days, I can just cruise through without a single thought.” Ron understood that, dealing with his own emotions.

“Maybe something reminded you of him. But hey, it’s okay to have these thoughts. It just shows how he’s apart of you, how you cared, how you loved him, and how special it was. Don’t ever be ashamed, either, and don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m always willing to listen to a story or hold you.” She looked over, giving him a slight smile. His words reminded her of something, too.

“And what about you? The same goes from me to you, too, as I know you’re still dealing with a lot. I hear you when you get up at night, Ron.” Ron nods his head, knowing he wasn’t the quietest in his trips out of the kitchen for a glass of water or milk.

“I appreciate that, really.” He then takes a deep breath as he looks out to the water. “I just don’t know where to begin, or how to describe it.” She could understand that, having been there before. It was why one time David Hayward hypnotized her.

“Sometimes it helps to start at the beginning, or with the first emotion you feel. Sometimes people start with the weakest because they feel it’s the easiest and then build up. Others go straight in so that way they can get the toughest part out of the way.”  Ron could see all of those theories working, but still didn’t know of a direction for himself – but a question did come to mind.

“Have you ever felt like the walls are closing in and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?” She nods her head, remembering a couple experiences.

“I was stuck in a mind shaft with my life threatened by a crazed brother so certainly I know that feeling.” Ron nods his head, remembering that story. He could only wonder about the strength she had.

“How do you look past everything and just move forward?” She takes a deep breath, trying to conjure up the best advice possible.

“I went through therapy a couple different times. I also leaned on those closest to me – Leo, David Hayward, Ryan, Kendall, my father. I talked about it, figured out how to handle it, and then moved forward.” He thinks it over, wondering if there was a single person he could do that with – like Jimmie or Chad, as they had offered. Perhaps therapy was a good option, too.

“I want to be able to sleep at night without a thought – I just don’t know to get there…” Greenlee nods her head, understanding.

“It takes time, Ron. It’s not going to happen overnight. You first need to find a strategy that works and then commit to it. You can’t just half-ass this. You have to treat it like you do work – go all in.” Ron had to chuckle, knowing that wasn’t possible. He couldn’t let up on his team commitment at all or else Chad may have a fit.

“Yeah, okay….”

“I’m serious, Malec!” He looks on surprised to hear her reference him by his last name. “And for the record, Chad would understand. Recall how he reacted to everything at Dega…”

“You don’t know Chad that well ye-”

“I know him well enough that he has a heart underneath it all. He could’ve shot your ass out of a cannon last year, remember.” Ron nods his head, remembering how nervous he was about his future. He didn’t know what he’d do if Chad and Rick would’ve fired him.

“There would’ve been questions that he couldn’t answ-”

“That’s why you guys have public relations staff, and I’m sure Amy could’ve come up with something quickly as she’s trained. Don’t try and pretend this is nothing.” Ron should know better, based on how close he was with Chad. Chad had also stopped in the shop to check on him that day, too.

“Fine – you win.” She then smiles. “And I will take your thoughts into consideration…”

“Sooner than later, and know – I am always here like you have been for me…” Ron smiles as he holds her hand tightly.