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.
“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.