Cabin Fears – Chapter 64: Her Dance with the Lady

The day seemed to go by quickly as just as it seemed qualifying was over, they were standing on pit road getting ready for opening ceremonies. Alyssa went through driver introductions, before coming to stand with the rest of the group.

A series of photos were done of Alyssa standing by the car, including one with her and Chase, along with her, Chase and her dad together. It was even nice to see Greg Ives make his way down pit road to see the car up close, himself.

“This brings back a lot of memories,” Dale comments as Chase glances over at him. “Who knew when we came here that we’d leave finally starting to show the world how much talent you had?” Chase chuckles, remembering the reaction from some people that night.

“They didn’t believe that you could go from sixth to first on a final restart and score a victory here, strangely,” Chase adds and Dale nods his head. “I mean, they forgot the value of new tires.”

“No matter when the caution comes out, what was the rule?” Chase simply smiles.

“New tires baby. Give me four fresh Goodyears and I’ll be set to dance with the Lady in the Black.” Dale chuckles, remembering the conversation that night on the radio with Chase and Greg. “You know, going to these races with Alyssa, I was fine sitting back and watching and being a cheerleader. Can I admit that tonight makes me itch a little to get back at it?” Dale could relate as he crossed his arms, eyes beginning to focus on Chase.

“There are few tracks that just make a driver’s skin crawl more than others. I went through that phase when I said that I was giving it up. I remember that, honestly. It gets easier with time – but there’s still the odd moment you wonder if you could still do it.” Chase nods his head, already having an answer for Dale on that question – for both himself and Dale. “Everything is healed stomach wise for you, right?” Chase nods his head once again.

“I’ve got the medical clearance already. The stomach lining and surgery and all that has healed, thankfully. I don’t want to think about that pain ever again.” Dale simply accepts, not wanting to reminders either. “But I know myself. I will go back racing and focus solely on that and Alyssa. I won’t focus on what I need to do for me. I want focus on figuring out my thoughts, getting back to where I should be mentally, because I’ll try and shove it away in a closet. I did that twice already. I’m not doing that again.”

“I admire you for that, really. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and state that’s what you need to do, even when the desire to be racing once again burns so deep. Let that desire be motivation. The desire to race, the want for a future, and the happiness you know you’re capable of – let it push you. I know it’s tough right now, but fight outside of your comfort zone and figure out what you need to do. You’ll figure it out…” Chase nods his head, hoping that Dale was right. It was nice hearing the encouragement from both Dale and Tony, but he knew it truly rested on his shoulders.

“I’m going to try and do what I need to do…” Dale then glances up pit road, before turning his eyes back to Chase.

“Then once you’re squared away, you’re going back racing for sure, right?” Chase smiles and nods his head.

“I have unfinished business, in case you’re not aware.” Dale chuckles, knowing that a couple more championships wouldn’t be out of the question. “Besides, someone has to keep her in line when she moves up next year.” Dale rolls his eyes, as he lets out a sigh.

“Don’t remind me. I never thought I’d be taking JRM to Cup but here we go.” Chase puts a hand on Dale’s shoulder.

“It’ll be fine, trust me. You have the right people in place to make it go off without a problem.” Dale glances over with a smile.

“Thanks…”

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

“Come on Alyssa!” Chase lets out as he stands on top of the pit box, watching her closely.

She had been fast throughout the event – dominating, actually. However, in classic Darlington style, a late race caution shook everything up. She followed the famous rule of coming to pit road for tires, but now had to make her way back to the front.

Chase’s eyes focused on the No. 9 car, then to the scoring monitor, and then back to the car on track. He let the laps count down, focusing on the lap times, knowing that she was catching the leaders. It just about making the move in the right amount of time.

Just as they suspected, she caught the leaders and made her way to second with ease. However, now the challenge of passing Erik Jones for the win wasn’t going to be easy.

Through turns three and four on the last lap, she finally got her run, diving to the bottom of him. The pair then bounced off each other a couple times coming to the line, but by the skinny edge of a blue bumper, cheers erupted from the pits.

“Woooohooo!” She screamed over the radio as Chase high-fived Dale with big smiles on both their faces.

“Now that’s how you bring that baby back to her playground,” Kevin Meendering says as he feels Chase’s arms around his shoulders, giving him a hug. “Heck yeah!”

“You danced well with the lady tonight,” Dale takes his turn. “Well done, princess.”

“I don’t care what else we do from here to November – this is the best victory ever!” She lets out, before laying down a huge burnout down the frontstretch.

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

Sitting down on the steps following the last photo, Alyssa lets out a sigh as she glances out towards the track. She feels someone sit down beside her, glancing towards her right and smiling.

“Everything okay?” Chase questions and she nods her head.

“I just can’t believe I pulled that off,” she answers. “I mean, this is the toughest track on the circuit and here I am, sitting in victory lane. Nobody believed that I could come back and be myself, winning races. But yet, we’ve won two races since I returned – and one of them here. I can’t believe it…” He wraps an arm around her, pulling her close to him.

“I believe it. I knew you were strong enough to overcome anything, whether it be what Randy threw at you or whether it was critics or this. You’re a combination of your parents and that makes you the strongest person that I know. You’re amazing and I knew you’d prove that to everybody. Believe it or not, you’re the inspiration for everyone. You’re showing them strength, drive, desire for success, and how to push against the boundaries people are faced with. I know that we talk about how frustrating this can be, but really, it makes you even more special.” He then gives her a kiss as she smiles in return.

“I remember how upset I was sitting in the hospital room. I remember telling the universe it was so unfair and wondering what I’d done wrong to deserve such a horrible thing to not feel anymore. All I wanted to was feel touch, grab things, simple things that people take for granted with their hands. I even remember how frustrated I was over a simple pony tail. But sitting here, and then hearing the comments from people like you’re saying, it makes everything alright.” He looks at her slightly puzzled.

“Alright? I thought sitting in Darlington victory lane would be amazi-” She could only laugh in response.

“It is, trust me. But I mean, about my arm. They say things happen for a reason. Maybe this happened to teach myself a lesson about everything we’re talking about. Maybe this happened so I could teach others a lesson because God knew I was strong enough to show them. I don’t know. But where I was frustrated a month ago, now I’ve come to grips with it and am okay.” He smiles as he rubs her shoulders.

“That’s a very mature, grown-up thing for you to say. I can still see you as the little girl sometimes, but I also see you growing up right in front of me. I’m proud of you, and I love you.” She then looks into his eyes.

“I love you, too.” She then takes his hand with her own. “And Chase, just as I am finding my peace, you will find yours. I’ve got you through it all.” He nods his head simply as she lays hers back against his shoulder.

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Cabin Fears – Chapter 53: Race Time

Marie and Dale stood on pit road together, waiting patiently for race time to be there as everybody was just set to get the day started.

“You feel almost tense, nervous,” Dale comments as he rubs Marie’s shoulders.

“Maybe because I am,” she replies as she leans back against him. Dale just continues to rub her shoulders.

“You know that she’ll be fine and can handle this. She proved that last week at Bristol.” Marie lets out a sigh, knowing that was true as she was proud of her daughter for that weekend. However, that didn’t change her feelings.

“I’m her mother. It’s my job to worry and wonder. There’s always the chance of something going wrong, whether her fault or not, and that just increases with what’s going on.” Dale understood where Marie was coming from, recalling his initial fears. Though everything had changed in the matter of a couple test laps and 250 additional circuits around Bristol.

“I know, but just try to relax and have fun. It’ll make it easier.” Marie smiles, knowing that Dale was right – no matter how hard that was actually.

“Do you worry when I race, too?” Robby questions, having got his start racing quarter midgets.

“Of course babes,” Marie answers. “I worry about all of you kids.” Robby then pats her leg.

“Well mom, you don’t got to worry about me. I’m going to be a champion and win every race.” He then hurries off to talk with one of the crew members as Marie glances back at Dale.

“And why did he have to inherit the need for speed, too?” Dale chuckles as he wasn’t sure.

“Because it’s in our blood,” he starts with a glance towards Elsa. “Look at it this way. Elsa can be your favourite as she’s the perfect little princess. I say she’s going to be a great dancer, or whatever she chooses to do.”

“Clothes stylist with some dancing on the side, Dad,” Elsa states as Dale looks back at Marie.

“See what I’m saying?” Marie just rolls her eyes, though points a smile towards Elsa.

“Don’t tell your siblings, but you’re the favorite. You don’t worry your mother.” Elsa just smiles widely as Alyssa walks up to them.

“I heard that,” Alyssa comments, shaking her head. “Luckily, it doesn’t matter because dad’s my favorite.” She then gives her dad a quick kiss before walking over to where Chase was standing.

“Did you hear that?” Marie questions as she glances over at the pair and Dale smiles, shaking his head yes.

“You had that comment after your comment, though,” Dale answers. He had to admit watching the pair together that he was full of disbelief on a couple different levels. It was crazy to see his first born all grown up, and in love with Chase. He never could’ve imagined those two getting together when she was born, but it was perfection regardless.

“She’s going to get mad at you for staring….” Dale then looks at Marie.

“She probably hasn’t even noticed with how engrossed she is in their conversation and the love for him.” Marie smiles as she now found her eyes locked on the pair, too.

“I hate to bring this up now, but do you think they’re moving past what happened?” Dale lets out a sigh as he keeps his arms wrapped firmly around Marie. He knew the events had bugged her more than anything.

“They’re working at it, if that means anything. I know she and Regan went up to the treehouse to have a discussion together, and I know Chase has been talking with some different people. It’s going to take time, but they’re making progress. You don’t have to worry and guard them…” It was Marie’s turn to let out a sigh as she looked back at Dale.

“I know, but I’m her mother, and you know that goes…” Dale chuckles and shakes his head yes.

Everybody hangs out together before the race, followed by standing together in formation for the national anthem. Once it was over, Dale and Marie gave Alyssa a hug each, followed by the siblings, before walking away.

“Remember what I talked to you about, and do your thing,” Graham tells her as he gives her a hug. “You’re going to do amazing.” She just smiles.

“Thanks Graham, and thank you for coming,” she replies before watching him walk away. Her eyes then focused on Chase, as she pulls him into a hug. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Chase replies as he holds her. “Be safe. Do your best. Focus on the goal at hand.” He then gives her a kiss before letting go.

He takes a couple steps back, allowing her to go through the process of buckling in and getting set with help from Adam. He watches her finger reach for the switch, allowing the car to roar to life before reaching in for a quick pound and heading to the pit box.

“Surprised to see you here,” he hears a pit reporter say, glancing their way.

“I’m here to support Alyssa – that’s all,” he replies. “And before you ask, I don’t know when I’m coming back. It could be in the next couple weeks, it could be a month.” He then steps over the wall, grabbing his headset off the pit box before climbing the steps.

With his eyes focused on his girl, he was ready to rid of the outside distractions and everybody’s questions about himself. For now, he wanted to use the time away to get quality time with Alyssa.

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

Throughout the event, she ran within the top-five and kept herself in solid contention during the race. The team played the right strategy which worked with the timing of the cautions, and it seemed they’d be set to contend late in the race.

As the laps neared the end, she put herself in the third spot, and was posting lap times quicker than the leaders. However, a caution flew with two to go, setting up an overtime finish.

“Son of a bitch!” Kevin Meendering let out on top of the pit box. “Save fuel, save fuel, save fuel. Do whatever you can to save fuel. I don’t know if there’s enough.”

“You don’t know?!?” Dale, Graham and Chase all said together as they looked towards the crew chief. Kevin then glanced at the engineer, nodding his head for a calculations update.

“We had enough gas to go to the end. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure. It all depends on cautions.” He keeps his eyes focused on the engineer, picking up the piece of paper after calculations are complete. “And yeah, we may just be screwed…” He puts on his headset. “Alright princess, here’s the deal. We’re about a half a lap short if we go green this time. Depending on what you saved, you may have enough. However, you also may run out. It’s up to you whether to pit as they go green.”

“We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” Alyssa starts. “Let’s gamble.” Kevin then starts chewing his nails as he watches the field double up for the restart.

She got a strong restart, taking the lead as the field went into turn two. As the nerves continued to build on the pit box, they watched her go through the next set of turns with ease. She made it through the moraine sweep, followed by the hurry downs and the carousel. While there was a small mistake entering the kink, she maintained the gap and kept the lead down through kettle bottom and into Canada corner. As she came out of the corner, the car sputtered a little. The nail biting increased as she kept going, but another sputter happened, followed by silence around her.

“We’re out,” she comments as she rolls to a stop entering the 14th and final corner on the track. “We’re done.” A mix of disappointment and swear words erupted from the pit box in response.

“I’m sorry princess,” Kevin Meendering starts immediately. “I should’ve pitted a lap later that last run to buy you some more fuel. You did an absolutely amazing job out there and deserved the win.” She didn’t know whether she wanted to curse herself or cry as she sat there in the corner, waiting for a push.

“10-4. That’s racing. It’s part of the game. Shit happens. We’ll move forward to Darlington and hope for better. Thanks for the amazing car this weekend, and the great support from everybody around. Least we know that I can turn both right and left now.”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 52: The Encounter

Chase leaned back against the wall, knowing in the room behind him was the pre-qualifying debrief between crew chief, driver and team. After such a strong ending to yesterday’s practice, he hoped things continued on a high today.

“So you’ve been fine all weekend?” His mind focuses back to the phone call as he rolls his eyes. He knew why his mom was calling, and couldn’t blame her after the recent events. That didn’t mean he’d rather not be having this conversation right now.

“Absolutely fine mom,” he tells once again. “I haven’t had a single issue at all so you can calm down.” He hears a sigh on the other end, knowing the speech was coming.

“I’m your mother. It’s my job to worry, Chase. But you’ve been sticking by the guys and not venturing on your own right?” He knew of her nerves and rightfully so after the incident at Bristol. However, eventually, he would have to see how he could handle things on his own so he was prepared. He knew he wasn’t there yet, with some stuff to still work through.

“Yes, mom. I’ve practically been by Alyssa’s side all weekend, except during practice when I was with Kevin and the team.”

“Okay. Just checking. I love you, and I wanted to make sure you were okay.” As much as the call annoyed him, he couldn’t get mad as he understood the concerns.

“Well, I’m fine so you don’t have to worry about me. Listen, Alyssa is going to coming out soon so I will talk to you later, okay?”

“Okay. Bye Chase.” He then smiles.

“Bye mom, and I love you.” He then hangs up, letting out a sigh as he glances around. He waits a while before seeing the door open, and seeing the group come out. His eyes immediately lock on Alyssa, wrapping an arm around her. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” she replies as she kisses his lips. “We’ve only been away from each other for like 15 minutes. What’s got you all like this?”

“Can’t I just tell my girl how much I love her and want to see her do well today?” She then smiles, knowing not to take any moment for granted. There’d be times next year where she’d be wishing for moments like this when they were traveling to different places.

“Well just cross your fingers that I remember what I learned yesterday, okay?” He holds up his hand, crossing his fingers with a smile.

“I’ll do it if it makes you feel better, but I know that I don’t have to. I believe in you more than you realize.” They then head out of the trailer together, making their way out to pit road with a couple people in toe, all eyes watching those around them.

The popularity from her father had carried on to her, with fans asking for autographs the entire way. She takes her time, signing a couple as they walk together, with Chase also joining in the signing.

“When are you going to come back racing?” “How are you doing?” “Are you ever going to race again?”

Chase could hear the numerous questions along the way, though simply kept signing. He knew if he started to answer that he’d get stuck there with a demand for more answers.

Besides, there was no straight-up answer to the questions asked. He hadn’t decided on a time to come back, and he wasn’t about to bare his soul to them with everything on his mind. He hated to deny them answers and keep quiet, but it was the only way to go about this.

“Chase!!” A female scream rings out, with a hand reaching out and grabbing his arm. “Chase oh Chase, when are you coming back? I miss seeing you every week. I am big fan. I just want to see you race again. When are you racing again?” Chase takes a deep breath, trying to remain as calm as possible as he feels his heart rate rise in being cornered by this fan. He kept reminding himself that she was only doing this probably out of her worry.

“I’m going to come back racing when I am ready,” Chase answers in a calm matter as he looks into her eyes. “I don’t know when that is.  Now, can you please let go of my arm, ma’am?” He feels her grip loosen bit by bit, as she finally lets go fully, pulling her hand back to her side of the fence. Chase takes a calming deep breath, glad that he had cooled down the situation. “Thank you. I appreciate your co-operation.” He then keeps walking as Alyssa wraps her good arm around him, placing his marker back in his pocket.

“Take care of her as that was uncalled for,” the PR rep tells security before catching up with the pair.

Chase and Alyssa walk out to pit road in silence, Alyssa still firmly holding him close to her, before stopping in her stall for the session. She immediately looks at him, turning herself so she’s facing him square.  She could tell that he froze up a little, and could tell the nerves in his voice earlier. It wasn’t hard to forget about what had happened just a week prior, either.

“I’m fine,” he tells her, seeing the worry written on her face as he leans in for a kiss. “Yes, she scared me and yes, she caught me off guard. But I’m fine. Focus on qualifying, okay?” Alyssa simply shakes her head yes.

“I love you,” she tells him, stealing a quick kiss before letting go and walking to the car. She wasn’t 100% sure on his answer, but knew his reason for even keel regardless – he wanted her to concentrate on the task at hand. Furthermore, she also knew of his technique in avoiding discussion. Resting her hands on the roof of the car, taking a quick glance back at him, her mind refreshed back to the conversation with Regan. “Be there to support him, stand by him, hug him, let him cry, and let him rant. It’ll be okay…”

“Ready to go?” Adam Jordan asks as he walks over to her. Alyssa takes one final deep breath, trying her best to place the whole incident out of mind before looking at the interior mechanic and shaking her head yes.  “Good luck this weekend.”

“Thank you Adam.”

Throughout the qualifying session, Chase’s eyes locked on the screen in their pits, double-checking her position on the chart.  He knew they had the speed based on practice, so it was just about laying down a solid lap in each round.

The first round went clean as a whistle, no issues at all, with her easily transferring to the Round of 12. She then laid down another solid lap in that round, placing herself fifth on the grid when it was said and done.

“Not bad for someone that was freaking out yesterday,” Kevin Meendering comments, causing Chase to jump a little from his spot. Kevin immediately freezes, facing him. “Woah, are you okay?”  Chase lets out a sigh, taking a couple calming deep breaths as he looks at the crew chief. He should’ve known it was just one of the guys.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he answers simply as Kevin keeps his eyes locked on him.

“I just spooked you….” Chase knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere without an explanation.

“I had a weird encounter with a fan that caught me off-guard. Let’s just say I haven’t calmed down all the way from that, yet, and I didn’t realize it was you. Sorry.”

“It’s okay, no worries. As long as you’re fine, then I’m fine.” Kevin then walks away, giving Alyssa a pat on the shoulder as they walk past each other. “Nice qualifying effort, princess.”

“Thanks Kevin,” she replies, keeping her eyes focused on Chase the entire time as she continues making her way over to him. She had seen the discussion with Kevin. She knew that wasn’t supposed to push the boundaries with Chase as that’d set him off and make him uncomfortable, but she couldn’t go forward with the rest of her day without saying another word. “Hey, I know she spooked you earlier. I know it got you frazzled and probably spunked your anxiety level a bit. If you need to talk about it, I’m willing to listen – no matter what. I can help you while focusing on what I have to do today.” Chase looks in her eyes, shaking his head in acceptance.

“I know,” he replies. “But I’m fine. I just needed to calm down, relax, and remind myself everything is okay. Besides, she was just an overzealous fan.” Alyssa smiles as she wraps her arm around him.

“Well let me assure you that I will protect you from any crazy fans that come after you because boy, you’re stuck with me.” He then laughs as he wraps his arms around her.

“I have no problem with that at all.”

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapter 33: The Photograph

Kevin walks into the garage, with Travis in toe. Travis could only roll his eyes as he followed, not believing they had actually pulled this off. He also wasn’t sure if he wanted to see William wearing a coconut bra and hula skirt later that day.

“I have a gift for a certain Mr. Harrell,” Kevin states, catching the attention of the crew.

“Do I trust you?” William asks as Kevin laughs, setting the envelope down before him.

“Look at those and then get sized for your new costume.” William looks back surprised as he opens the envelope, spreading the photos on the table. The crew then gathers around, snatching up one each to look at themselves. “That was last night. As I predicted, those two couldn’t keep off the chemistry for long as they were quite close last night, couple kisses, and a sweet go-karting date night. Any questions, sir?”

“Unbelievable.” William then shoves the photos across the table as Kevin can only sit down and laugh at his fellow crew member. “It’s only March and they’re back together. Why did I even think of giving you to July?”

“You just don’t know our driver as well as you thought you did.”

“They surprised me, if it’s worth anything to you William,” Nick Covey comments as he shakes his head in disagreement.

“Want to take my place in the outfit then?” William questions as Nick laughs and shakes his head no.

“I just wonder if they’re doing the right thing. Like you said, they had a rocky past with what happened previously when she first started working here. I mean, Cameron said they dated five or six months and something what happened – but what? Did she cheat on him with Hamlin? Did they have a fight?”

“What are you getting at?” David Mayo questions as Nick shrugs his shoulders.

“I am wondering whether there’s going to be issues down the road that we’re going to have to separate, and perhaps cause other problems on-track,” Nick comments. “I mean, what if something happens?”

“They’re both professionals,” Travis starts. “They’ll keep it separate from what happens on track. I don’t think we have to worry about that, anyway. They seemed pretty chummy last night.”

“Anybody want to take a bet how long till she’s pregnant?” Kevin questions, as the crew looks on surprised. “I’m barging on this while my luck is hot. I never get anything good around here.”

“I say let’s just be thankful we didn’t get caught this time and leave things alone,” David comments.

“What is this discussion about?” A new voice chimes in, catching the crew members off-guard. They glance up to see Dale standing there. Normally he didn’t come by the garage much till it was closer to practice. It was a surprise for them to see him, but they figured he was there to see Angelica. He then snatches one of the photos off the table. “Where did this come from?”

“It seems you had a pair of spies last night,” William answers, catching a glare from Kevin. “What? If I have to wear a coconut bra and hula skirt, I’m getting you in shi-”

“Coconut bra and hula skirt? Sneaky photos of my night out with Angelica?” Dale then snatches all the photos up as he looks among the guys. “Seriously, what the fuck is going on?”

“We had a bet that you and Angelica wouldn’t get together before July,” Kevin gives in, knowing there was no way around this. “I bet you would, and he bet you wouldn’t. I may have spied last night to get proof for him.”

“Are you fuc-”

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I know I was wrong and it’s the worst thing to do. I apologize, sincerely.” Dale shakes his head as he looks through the photos.

“And to think that I liked you guys,” he starts. “But yet here everybody is gossiping about me and our crew chief behind the backs of us all. On top of that, you’re spying on us, too. This is high school bullshit and one of the damn reasons Angelica held back, among others. Do me a favor and can this bullshit before I make Rick can every one of you. Now, get to work!” He then walks away with photos in hand as the crew members trade glances.

“I told you he’d be pissed off,” Travis comments as he stands up first.

“You still have to wear the outfit,” Kevin states as William rolls his eyes.

“I’ve never seen him that protective over someone…” Nick says as he walks away from the table, set to focus on some job, any job to get out of the dog house.

“I told you they care a lot about each other.” Nick shakes his head in agreement. “Just wait till he tells Angelica. I might as well start packing now.”

“Was she already mad at you for the questions?” Kevin shakes his head yes with a sigh. “Listen, maybe Dale won’t say anything. I mean, he didn’t seem pleased that he found out about it and I don’t think he’ll want to say something to her.” Kevin hoped that Nick was right, but knew he couldn’t be certain till some time passed.

Meanwhile, Dale stashed the photos away, actually smiling at a couple in seeing how happy they both looked together. As a smile formed on his face, he just hoped the positive vibes continued moving forward – both on-track and off the track.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 33: “Hold my drink, please.”

“Green flag,” TJ Majors makes the call over the radio as the team watches on closely.

Chase felt his breath hitch in his throat, nerves filling him as he knew there was no way Alyssa was backing down as she went into the corner, set to begin her climb back to the front of the field.

Dale admitted he normally wasn’t nervous watching any of his kids race, though he could feel the same nerves that Chase was feeling in this moment. Would her desire to succeed end up costing her here by pushing it too hard? Would she be able to handle everything, given what she was going through? He had many questions running through his mind, even a small second in questioning himself for allowing Steve and Alyssa to go through with this. However, that was erased as he saw her continue to keep complete control no matter the situation put in.

She put in the drive of her life through those final 15 laps, crossing the line for the caution in 10th. It wasn’t what she originally wanted, but she’d take the single point and starting off the last stage there.

“We’re pitting with everyone here,” Kevin Meendering easily came over the radio. With her being in position to strike, there was no way they would play strategy here. Besides, there was no way you could make it on fuel here and make it worth your while anyway. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine, great, no issues,” she spats off in a slew of words. “What else would you expect?” Kevin just rolled his eyes as he glanced back at Dale, knowing that it was total attitude as she was still angry and frustrated. Dale just put his hands up in the air and shrugged his shoulders; there was nothing else he could do.

“10-4, just checking. I care about you, Alyssa.” They then watch as she comes in, with the team performing another flawless pit stop before sending her off with ease.

“10-4 ‘ppreciate that, but we have a race to focus on winning. By the way, where’s shithead?”

“Focus on winning and moving towards the front, and not him. He’s not worth it.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Kevin then glanced back at Dale again, who simply gave him the same reaction, before Kevin looked forward. It was going to be a long second half of the race, especially if they crossed paths with Dillon again.

The restart came for the final stage of the race – 125 laps – and the focus was on getting to the front. The team watched on as she made her way through the field, picking off one car at a time as she closed in on the top-five.

A glance towards the crowd saw some looks of amazement and cheers as for her. The ever loyal Earnhardt fan base, combined with some fans of her own and Chase, found themselves thrust into the moment in watching to see if their favourite darling was set to pull it off. Though matched with that were some who couldn’t care less about her before, or even disliked her for whatever reason, that now sat in amazement. How was she able to do that one-handed so easily? Did she have super powers?

If you were tuning into the broadcast, whether TV or radio, the compliments could be heard over and over with them gushing about the moves that she was making and the speed she was showing.

“How is she able to fight back now twice after issues?” was the question asked in the booth. Steve, supposed to be focused on his job as a commentator, found his eyes locked on her at times in the same amazement. He could himself continually thankful that he had gone about the steps he did to make this happen as he couldn’t had imagined her being away from the track.

“She’s amazing and talented, and is going to be a champion one day,” he simply answered the question with a smile on his face.

Her march through the field found her on the bumper of Dillon, as she wanted, with about 95 laps left in the event. Anger still trickled through her that his stupid bump earlier had caused her to have to drive through the field for the second time today. He had ruined her plans of battling up front all day with the best of the best throughout the race.

Going into the corner, she let her Chevrolet go right up close to his, giving him a bump, which immediately caused him to slide up the track. She took full advantage as she completed the pass through the bottom, while leaving him stuff with his sideways car.

“Payback bitch,” she simply said over the radio with her own smile as she focused forward, set to pas the next person and work towards taking the lead.

It was evident by everybody watching that she had the quickest car on track, and being able to roll the bottom so easily played to her advantage as she continued to pick off each car with ease. As the laps kept counting down, she found herself on the bumper of Leo, who had dominated to that point.

Going into the turn, she cut down to the bottom as she had done all day, letting it roll the center with ease, before picking up the throttle off the corner and clearing him for the lead.

“New leader – Princess Alyssa,” TJ says in his familiar tone, pumping his fist up in the air. “65 laps to go.”

She then led the next 10 laps with ease before the caution flew for an incident deep in the field, which was to the relief of Kevin Meendering. There was no worry about being screwed by a green flag pit stop or anything now. He just needed her to not speed and the flawless pit stops to continue so she could come out as the leader, and show the way for the rest of the event.

“Let’s do this guys and gals,” he said over the radio, fingers secretly crossed as he could only see something going wrong with how their day had gone thus far.

However, everything came together – the pit crew changed all four tires in 12 seconds, allowing her to easily get off pit road as the race leader.

“Give me 55 solid laps,” Kevin stated on the radio as she got set for the restart. “Focus on yourself. Focus on your race. Ignore everybody else, and take care in lap traffic. We can do this.”

The green flag waved and she punched the gas, allowing the car to take off with ease as she shifted the gears, having grown to really like the paddle shifter.

Over the final 55 laps, everybody sat on the pit box with nerves cursing through them. She just had to hit her marks. Nothing had to break. The handling had to stay the way it was. No cautions needed to fall.

Chase focused his eyes on the lap counter, watching the laps tick by one-by-one, even biting his nails at times as he was certain a caution was coming. It was a Bristol night race – wrecks always happened.

Dale glanced down at his feet, unable to watch as he saw the ticker get down to 10….5. A caution just had to be coming. It just seemed too perfect as she held a three second lead over the field and was set to cruise to the victory.

Marie had turned her eyes down sooner, telling Elsa and Robby to tell her when it was over. Elsa, who normally could’ve cared less to pay attention, was focused on the racing and cheering her big sister on. She knew what it’d mean to snag a victory this big.

As she crossed the stripe for the checkered flag, the entire pit box erupted into a series of cheers, with hugs being traded between everybody.

“Way to go!!” Kevin Meendering yelled over the radio. “Awesome, awesome driving out there sweetheart. Welcome back. Great job everybody. Great job Alyssa. Great job team.”

“Welcome back to victory lane, princess,” TJ says as he trades a couple high-fives with some of the fellow spotters on the roof. “Way to go!”

“Wooohooooo!” She yells out over the radio as she couldn’t believe it. “Thanks for the amazing car, and thanks for all the support. Thank you…thank you. This is just amazing. Bristol!!”

“Way to go, Alyssa,” Dale says as he sits there in belief. “Soak it in, enjoy the moment. Glad to see you come back in style.” He then slips the radio off, and looks over at Chase. “No pressure for when you come back, kid.”

“She’s amazing,” Chase simply comments as he trades a quick hug with Dale.

The team then headed to victory lane, chants and cheers being traded the whole way as they watched her snag the checkered flag from the flagman before performing a burn-out down the whole front straightaway.

She then pulled into victory lane, flipping the switch as she sat back in the seat in total disbelief. She then reached for the belts, followed by the steering wheel, slowly working her way through everything.

“Need some help?” She hears, half expecting either Chase, Kevin or Adam. Though a smile immediately forms as it’s her dad putting the window net down, and reaching into to help her. “I’m proud of you, really proud of you. I’ve always been proud of you, but this is just amazing. I had no idea you had this in you.”

“It proves you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” she replies with a smile, before wrapping her good arm around him for a hug and kissing his cheek. “I love you daddy.”

“I love you, too.” He then steps back, set for the full celebration to take effect. Taking a deep breath, she pulls herself out, sitting on the edge of window as she puts both hands in the air with a cheer. The confetti shoots off all directions with any beverage the team could find being sprayed.

“Help me?” Dale shakes his head yes as he steps forward a bit. She then grabs the roll bar with one hand, pulling her legs up, working towards standing up.

“Screw this. I got you.” He then places a hand under each of her arms, pulling it up and holding her till she gets her legs placed on the door bar, before pushing her a bit forward so she grab the roof bar, and pull herself straight up. Standing on the edge of the door – Dale with a hand on her back, still nervous – she lifts both arms in the air once again, soaking in every bit of the moment.

She then jumps down, immediately coming face-to-face with Chase as she leans in for a kiss, perhaps a little longer than initial intended, as he wraps both arms around her and lifts her up.

“You’re amazing!” He lets out, before letting her go and bending over a little, letting out an aggravated sigh.

“Are you okay?” Alyssa asks, immediately going into worry mode, some of the amazing feeling fading as he looks up and shakes his head yes. “Remember what you’ve been through, and are going through. Take care of yourself and leave doing that till you’re feeling better. I love you, Chasey.”She then kisses his cheek before turning to face the cameras, set for the post-race interview.

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

Following the interviews, official ceremonies and official team photos, it was now down to the last couple of photos. She had gone through everything with the ‘special guests,’ followed by the standard driver and crew chief, driver and owner, driver with both, etc that she was required to do. She also even included a photo of her with both siblings, and her parents.

“I’m surprised you’re both here,” she says as she looks between Elsa and Robby. “You’re normally tormenting me, and you’re normally not giving a care about this racing thing.”

“You’re my big sister; I care about you,” Elsa comments as Alyssa could only smile.

“I never want to lose you, either,” Robby adds, before wrapping her arms around her. She simply wraps her arm around him as she takes a deep breath. Two little comments and everything in the moment was put into perspective.

“I love you both, too, and I couldn’t imagine life without you,” she tells them before letting Robby go.

“Does that mean you’ll buy me ice cream for your win?” Alyssa then looks at him intrigued.

“Already back to your old tricks, huh?” She then reaches over, messing up his air as he fights away from her. “You know the answer already.” The pair of them then hurry off, as she locks eyes with Chase. She gives him a quick motion, as he immediately makes his way over. “I can’t do victory lane without this photo.”

“I was going to yell at you if you forgot,” he comments, before wrapping an arm around her as they both look at the cameras. “I love you so much.” He then kisses her cheek, causing even more flashbulbs to go off.

“Just imagine if we locked lips right now; they may be able to see us on the moon,” she jokes back in response as he turns her to face him.

“Let’s try it.” He then leans in for a kiss, as they watch all the flashbulbs go off and laugh.

“One more…” She then pulls out her phone, holding it up for a selfie with him and the trophy. She then puts her phone down by the trophy, facing him. “This is amazing. This is everything, Chase.”

“I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry I doubted you at all.” She then grabs his hand with hers.

“Listen, you only doubted me because you cared about me, and I appreciate that. I wouldn’t want you to change that. This is a step, this is assurance to me that I can do this and not have to worry. Now it’s focusing on everything else that’s going through this mind of mine, as well as that mind of yours. We can focus on healing ourselves, and each other, and working our way through what happened. We’re going to be okay, Chase.” He simply shakes his head in agreement as he pulls her close, placing his head on her shoulder.

“I know, I know that we will. I just don’t ever want to go through the thought of losing you ever again.” She wraps her one arm around him, holding him as close as she can.

“You won’t ever have to. I promise, Chase.”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 32: Food City 250

Alyssa takes a deep breath as she keeps her arm firmly wrapped around Chase during the opening ceremonies. She could see the cameras pointed in their direction and see the flashbulbs going off, but she didn’t care.

She had her mate in life beside her, and nothing was going to distract them from soaking up opening ceremonies together. The rumblings about whether she could cut it behind the wheel that night, everybody’s thoughts on her emotions, everyone’s thoughts on Chase’s future – she didn’t care.

After the national anthem was sung, she turned and faced Chase, grabbing his hands, going up on her tippy toes a little as she kissed his lips.

“Be safe and have a good race tonight,” he tells her. “I’ll be up on your pit box supporting you the whole way, and ready for a fun night.” She then smiles as she knew he was set on being the perfect supporting boyfriend, but the earlier events hadn’t been lost on her mind.

“Trust me – I’ll be fine out there and make this my night to shine,” she replies. “And you just be sure to take care of yourself. If it gets to be too much sitting up there, go back to the motorcoach and lay down for awhile. I’ll understand because I know in your heart, you’re with me every step of the way.”

“Believe me – that couldn’t be further from the truth.” He then lets her go, allowing her to go through the steps of getting ready with Adam.

While original plans had her working with the team that she called her own, she had asked Adam to stay on board in being charge of things inside the car after seeing how well he had handled things to this point. He easily obliged, knowing it wouldn’t interfere with his Sunday duties at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Feel good?” He asks as he finishes attaching the HANS straps to the helmet. She simply shakes her head yes, before focusing on climbing in the car. He then helps her get strapped in, followed by double checking all was where she wanted. “Have fun out there tonight. I’ve known you since you were a kid and one thing I know for certain – you’re stubborn just like your daddy so when you say you’ll do something, I know it’ll happen.” He then gives her a fist pump before putting the window net up and walking away.

The team makes their way to the pit box, climbing the steps up to sit in their normal seats as they watch the familiar purple car head out on track, set for the 250 laps that night. Taking a deep breath, there was no looking back now.

They watched as she took the green flag, battling side-by-side with Leo for the top spot over the first couple laps before settling in the second spot. As the first stage went on, she continued to lay down solid lap times, one after the other, keeping herself in the spot without losing much ground to Leo either. She even managed to make her way through the lap traffic with ease, passing each slower car that they came up on high or low.

That was till 15 laps were left in the first stage, though.

As she came up on the No. 0 car, he initially slid up to the top groove of the track, which allowed Alyssa to dive underneath going into the corner. She was set on clearing him off the corner, though he cut down a little, catching the rear of the car, sending her spinning down the 36 degrees of banking.

Chase closed his eyes as he saw the inside wall coming, knowing it wouldn’t be pretty, but never heard the familiar bang that came with that contact.

“Nicely done,” TJ Majors says over the radio as Chase opens his eyes, seeing that she had barely missed the wall, bringing the car to a dead stop. “Caution is out. Get rolling so you don’t go a lap down.”

“Going to need four tires!” She yells out as she gets rolling before Leo is able to come around and put her a lap down. “Stupid rookie! How do you give someone the bottom and then crowd them off the corner? Like really?” Chase understood her frustration as he was just as shocked by what happened as her.

“10-4,” Kevin Meendering says in the calmest voice possible, which Chase was surprised as he knew he would’ve had the same high strung tone of Alyssa right now. “Rookies, they make mistakes. We have minimal damage and there’s still a long way to go. We can still do this. Just bring it around slow so you don’t pop any tires, and we’ll get them changed. Then you can go back out and we’ll address the damage as we go.”

“Sure, whatever.” Chase shakes his head as he knew what she was thinking – seeing red and more than just the car that hit her, and believing their chance to win was gone.

The team went into full assault mode, immediately changing the tires with ease and pulling the back fenders out a little before sending her off pit road. She came back down for a second trip, with the crew assessing the left rear corner where the damage was. They pulled it out a little, before giving Kevin a thumbs up as he sent her off pit road.

The restart came with her back in the 22nd position, making up a little bit of ground in the final five laps ran to close out the first stage of the event.

“We’re staying out!” Kevin made the call over the radio, catching a couple surprised glances. “Fuel window is 90 laps. Second stage is only 75 laps, which will bring you to a total of 84 on this tank of gas. We’ll be fine.” Perhaps their chance at winning wasn’t totally out of the equation. She just needed to hold on to the track position, despite slightly older tires, and then she could make a charge in the final stage for the win.

“10-4,” was all she said in response on the radio, focused on the goal at hand.

While the strategy was a good decision and she had a strong enough car to remain up front, it didn’t seem everybody else was willing to play fair that night. Running in the top-five with 24 laps to go in the second stage, she felt a tap from behind going into the corner, sending her around for her second spin of the night.

“Seriously?!?!” She yells on the radio once getting the car back under control and rolling again. “Like seriously? Who the hell did that?”

“That’d be Dillon,” TJ Majors answers, referring to Ty Dillon. “He just drove in there way too hard. There was no way he was making the corner and well, he made the corner – only thanks to your bumper.”

“Son of a bitch! I guess silver spoon sweetheart still hasn’t changed.” Chase and Dale couldn’t help but laugh a little on the pit box as they glanced at each other, knowing if Kevin was listening he’d be having a laugh as well.

“Now now, let’s calm down and focus here,” Dale comes over the radio after he was done laughing. “Some people would say the same remark about you too, sweetie, so let’s restrain from that comment – no matter how fitting it is. Focus on your race. There’s still lots of time left.”

“Four tires?” Kevin Meendering then asks, glad that Dale had been the calming factor there as he wasn’t sure that he could’ve done it again with her.

“Well yeah duh as I slid these through the corner due to a jackass,” she answers as Kevin could only roll his eyes. “How many to go once the caution is done? Where are we restarting?” Kevin glanced at the scoring monitor, working out the math quickly as in his head as he didn’t need her getting more frustrated with a lack of answers.

“Going to be about 15 to go in the stage when the green flag flies here in a bit. You’ll be restarting 18th.” He watches as she brings the car down pit road, with the crew once again changing the tires, before sending her back out. “Your tires are going to be about 60 laps fresher than everybody around you.”

“Be smart about this,” Dale starts. “I know you’re frustrated and angry, but don’t drive over your head and make it worse. Just focus on the task at hand. Lots of time. There’s still 140 laps to go.” Chase shook his head as he heard the comments being told to her. He knew how drivers think and knew what she was about to do.

“You know she’d be telling you this is a ‘hold my drink, and what this’ moment if she didn’t want you to think that you had convinced her otherwise,” Chase comments as Dale looks over, shaking his head in agreement. They both knew her feelings as they’d be in her spot before themselves.

“Trust me – I know that’s going to have little impact, if any. But it makes Kevin and TJ happy that I tried.” Chase couldn’t help but agree as he focused his eyes back on the track.

They were going to be in for a show on this restart, and the rest of the way.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 31: Qualifying

After their conversation, the pair met up with everybody else, Chase simply thanking everybody for their thoughts, with clear intentions to work on things as they moved forward. Everybody assured him easily in return that they’d be there for him when he needs them.

There was no more time to spare as qualifying was next on the docket for Alyssa, meaning that she had to get set to go, followed by getting out there for her laps on track.

A 20-minute first round for qualifying on a half-mile seemed like it was way too much, considering the fact that a lap time was down to the sub-15 second range. However, rules were rules, right?

Kevin Meendering played right into the strategy game, sending her out right at the beginning of the session. He told her to lay down the best lap possible, but try to not to make the tires angry in the process so they had something for the second round. She easily succeeded, laying down a lap that they were confident would get them into the second ground.

She just needed to wait out the 19 minute session to see if that was the case.

“Be prepared to go back out ASAP if we’re wrong on that being enough,” he says as she climbs out of the car. She simply gives him a nod before walking back across over the wall, grabbing her bottle of water off the wall and taking a sip. She then leaned back against the pit box, staring at the scoring pylon in hopes she didn’t drop down.

Being able to get some time by herself led her thoughts to go off the track, which was no surprise as she had just talked to Chase about a lot of core emotions from everything.

Taking a deep breath, it felt good to get that out in the open. It gave her heart comfort in knowing there was something off his plate with everything that he was going through. It also gave her confidence in the future in the ability for them to work together due to how easily the conversation went with getting everything out. In truth, they had always been able to do that together. Perhaps if she stopped putting it off, they could plan a night and get it all out in the open.

Though she knew that was harder said than done, as well the confidence remained she still didn’t know how to handle some of her own thoughts. How do you erase the fear? How do you confide your deepest feelings out loud? How do you let someone see just how vulnerable you are?

She then jumps as she feels an arm on her shoulder, looking towards the source as she lets out a sigh. There was no reason to worry.

“Jumpy for a reason?” Marie asks as Alyssa leans back against the pit box like she was.

“Didn’t realize it was you,” she answers as she sips on her water.

“You know, it’d just be a crew member or someone close. You don’t need to worry, Alyssa.” Alyssa glances over the bottle at her mom, wishing it was that easy.

“I know…” She then lets out a sigh, not wanting to be getting into a discussion like this with her mother. She had a job to focus on right now.

“I just wanted to check on you and see how you were doing, especially after everything with Chase.” She knew that was why her mother was there. Marie was always the caring one, double checking how everybody was more than they wanted. Essentially, it was annoying – but she understood the reasoning so she didn’t bite her head off in return.

“I’m fine, Mom. I’m thinking it over a little, but I’m fine and focused on what I have to do now. Can we save this conversation for later?” She hadn’t wanted to say those words. There was no way that she wanted to have a conversation with her mom later about her feelings. There was no way that she could say everything.

“Sure, if you want to. We can talk tomorrow when we’ve got plenty of time. That’s fine. I just don’t want you to let this eat at you, bug you, or distract you. Besides, I’m your mother and I worry abou-”

“Trust me Mom – I’m fine.” She then stops herself, taking a deep breath. She shouldn’t had cut off her mother’s words – that’d lead suspicion. She should’ve continued to give her the benefit of the doubt, but she was growing frustrated. “It’s just….I’d rather stay focused on what I have to do tonight and then worry about that later, okay?”

“That’s fine, but know that you can’t put it off or think you can forget it. Chase already warned you about what happens if you do that, right?” Alyssa rolls her eyes, having heard that enough times to drive her insane.

“I know, but that’s not what I’m saying. All I’m saying is wrong place, wrong time for this conversation.” She then moves forward, working his way back towards the pit wall, climbing back over and going by the car. Only crew members were allowed on this side of the wall so she could escape the discussion without having to say anything else. Besides, she wanted to go over a couple quick things with Kevin before the second round, which clearly she was going to make with only a couple minutes remaining.

“You need to handle this sometime….” Marie then lets out a sigh as she turns on her heels, returning back to the rest of the core group as there was no way she was going to get any further with her daughter.

“How does she get away with that attitude but I get grounded right away?” Elsa questions as Dale looks down at his daughter. Why did teenage daughters have to be such a pain?

“Because she’s got a job to focus on, a reason that her mom should understand as a reason to leave her alone – just as she’d leave me alone when I was busy,” Dale answers, keeping an eye on Marie as he tells Elsa. “There’s also a bit of leeway, given the feelings and emotions that are going through her mind. Under any other circumstance, Marie would’ve easily yelled and lectured her back, probably ending up with her being grounded. So don’t think that you can get out of this easily, Elsa.”

“Got it.” Elsa then watches her sister closely, before glancing back at her dad. “You mentioned some things going on in her mind – emotions. That’s because of what happened. How long does that last?”

“There’s no set limit on that, Elsa. Sometimes it lasts just for a couple weeks, other times for months or years. Chase still deals with some of the emotions from what he went through then. I still find myself dealing with that at times. It’s something that’s with her forever. It’s not like you can flick a switch and make it disappear.” Elsa simply shook her head, understanding. Here was the sister that she loved dearly, but also picked on way too much at times and now she could find herself in a sympathy mood. “Elsa?”

“It’s just, I feel bad for her I guess. I just wonder if things will ever be the same. I mean, we had that weird sisterly bond going on.” Dale had the chuckle as the fights annoyed him more than ever, but he totally understood it.

“Listen, this doesn’t change anything with you girls. I’m sure you’ll still squabble at times, and I’m sure she’ll still be there to give you the weird older sister advice that you sometimes hate. This doesn’t change that, so don’t worry. It’s just for a bit, you have to be a little patient and watch how much you push her buttons.” He then wraps an arm around Elsa and pulls her close. “I know you’re worried about your sister, but trust me – it’ll be fine. I’m fine.”

The group then focused their attention on-track as they watched her pull back out, set for her first run of the second round. Kevin Meendering has chosen a slightly different approach this time, sending her halfway through the session out.

It paid off as she was able to find the clear track that she needed to run her two laps cleanly, once again putting in a pair of laps that held strong enough lap times to be considered pole worthy.

The group was set to celebrate, thinking it was clinched, till the final car crossed – Leo Gordon – and they saw the new time flash across the screen. Rather than being on the pole as they thought she’d get, she’d be starting that night’s 300-mile race in second.

“It’s still a great qualifying effort,” Dale tells her as he gives her a quick pat on the shoulder. She then glances over with a smile, shaking her head in agreement. However, as she looked down pit road and saw Leo celebrating with his team, she couldn’t hide the bit of hurt that she felt. She wanted the pole for the perfect comeback.

Taking a deep breath and set for her post qualifying interview, it was fine – because she was going to have the final word and snag a win that night.