Chapter 17: Daytona 500 Pre-Race
Angelica leans back against the car with a smile on her face as she takes in the scenes of race morning.
She had been at the Daytona 500 plenty of times before. She went as a fan as a little girl, and been down there plenty of times with the 48 team. Though being in a crew chief for NASCAR’s most popular driver, it all seemed different. Everything seemed to hit a scale that she couldn’t reach in her mind. There was certain electricity in the air, to go with the expectations and pressure that she hadn’t experienced before.
She takes a deep breath, reminding herself that it was just like any other race and she had a job to do on the pit box in calling the perfect strategy. There was nothing different, even if this was her first race as a crew chief. There was nothing different even if this was the biggest race of the season.
“How are you this morning?” She hears, snapping her out of her thoughts as she looks over at the boss with a smile.
“Just taking it all in,” she answers. “Remembering my job at hand. Remembering to treat it just like any other race and mentally going over my notes.” Rick could only let out a small laugh as he patted her shoulder.
“Those words spoken like a true rookie crew chief set to embark on her first year. Greg had about the same thing to say to me last season. Don’t worry – it’s going to work out. Dale and you are going to work together as planned, and you’re going to make the right calls and adjustments to have this car in victory lane.” She smiles, proudly accepting the vote of confidence from the boss. She just hoped that she could match those expectations.
“I’ll try my best, sir.”
“That’s all I expect. Have a good race.” She watches as he walks off down pit road, set to find his next person to talk to. She knew that he’d definitely go see Chase as this was his first Daytona 500, and certainly stop by to wish Jimmie and Kasey both luck. It was Rick’s normal way to see each driver before the race, and very what pit box he sat on each week.
“This doesn’t get old….” She then takes out her cell phone, taking a panoramic photo of the area before tweeting it out on her account. Enjoying the scenery and remembering what made Daytona so special were perhaps the ingredients to calm her back down.
She watches as the crew heads over her way, having expected the boys to join her at the car. She knew that Dale was busy with driver introductions, but would be there soon enough. Then, before she knew it, it’d be time for pre-race ceremonies and the workday would truly begin.
“Hey Angelica!” Matt Tyrrell, the team’s gas man, lets out as he walks up to her and gives her a hug. She could only smile and accept it. She was used to the boys giving her hugs each day as they seemed to be in love with working with her already. “So, can I ask you something? We need to settle this!”
“You’re not going to brin-” Head Engineer Kevin Meendering starts, although he was curious as much as any of them after the stories that Car Chief Travis Mack had shared earlier in the weekend of Angelica’s past with Dale.
“Dude, we’re settling this! You and Travis say it is happening, and William says it’s not. I’m done hearing discussions about it!” Angelica then crosses her arms, looking at the crop of the crew guys curious with her eyebrows raised. What could have them riled up?
“What’s going on?” She asks as Matt takes a deep breath. It was harder to ask than he thought it’d be.
“There’s a rumor going around the garage that you and Dale are together,” Matt starts and Angelica rolls her eyes. “Supposedly, you guys went out on a little date last night and returned together. Travis also shared that it’s a good possibility because you guys used to date.” Angelica then looks at Travis with a death stare as he holds his hands up innocently.
“Hey, I saw you guys together late some nights at HMS due to staying late to work with the other engineers on some notes!” Travis states as Angelica just rolls her eyes.
“It doesn’t mean that you had to tell the world as it wasn’t public knowledge!” She lets out before looking back at her guys. “It’s true – Dale and I used to date. We dated for about three months and then split up due to some differences of opinion at the time. Now, are we back together? No. We went go-karting last night as friends to simply spend some time together and cut loose, and find our friendship boundary. Is that past relationship going to affect things moving forward? Absolutely not as we’ve promised to put it behind us and work together as friends and professionals. Therefore, I don’t want to hear another word from any of you jackasses today or ever!” The boys immediately shakes their heads in agreement, knowing that they better not press the issue. They, though, understood that it’d bring up discussions later when she wasn’t around.
“Is there a problem?” Dale joins in the conversation as he joins them at the car. Angelica then looks back at him and shakes her head no.
“It seems the boys heard a rumor that we went on a date last night and were curious. I set them straight so we shouldn’t hear another word on the topic, EVER.”
“I apologize for their immaturity,” William says on behalf of the other guys as they give him a dirty look.
“Don’t act innocent Will,” Dale comments. “Boys, just because she’s a female doesn’t mean that you are supposed to treat her any differently. That means no spreading rumors or joking about rumors of dating. Just treat her like another crew member.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt offers as he holds out his hand. Angelica then shakes it, accepting the apology.
“Do you know who started the rumor?” She wonders and Matt shakes his head yes.
“Someone on one of the JGR crews told me. I think overheard Dustin and Brandon from Denny’s team.” Angelica could only silently curse, resisting the urge to walk down to Denny’s stall and strangle him in plain sight.
“I’ll handle things with Denny so it doesn’t continue,” Dale offers as Angelica gives him a look. “Guys, can you give us a moment to talk over some strategy?” The boys shake a head walking away as Dale keeps his eyes locked on Angelica.
“I’ll handle Denny as he shouldn’t be someone that you need to worry about,” she informs him as Dale looks at her confused. “Look, he caught up me after practice on Friday and asked how things were going between us. I told him, honestly, how things were going. He questioned whether I was right in forgiving you and such, in which I lectured him back in return. I may have let it slip that we were going out go-karting as friends.” Dale thinks over what she is saying, now wanting to strangle Denny himself.
“So out of spite and perhaps jealousy, he spread the rumor?” She shakes her head yes.
“It would assume so. That’s why I said I’ll handle him, post-race.” Dale shakes his head in agreement as he thinks things over. He knew that the pair went out before.
“Does he still have feelings for you, I wonder?” As the question escaped Dale, Angelica felt her breath hitch in her throat. That would explain his behavior that was out of the ordinary of their friendship.
“It’s quite possible. But, I want to make this clear – I have no feelings for him in return. We’re just friends in my mind and nothing else. If he tries to go beyond that and can’t understand that, then I’m out.”
“Angelica, you don’t need to explain things for me. I get it. You’re honest as they come and would tell me straight up if something was going on with you and Denny. Besides, we’re not together – we’re just friends. You don’t need to explain yourself.” She shook her head understanding his words. It felt good to hear those words from him as it showed he was growing from the previous thoughts that brought forth their relationship issues. However, she still felt it was right in her doing to clear the air – wanting to leave hat door open for the future. “Now, don’t we have a race to focus on?”
Chapter 18: Daytona 500
Angelica sat confidently on the pit box, as she watched the race close down to the final laps. She had been able to make the right calls all day, from when to bring him down pit road with a group of cars, to the right adjustments so he could remain up front.
They had watched a couple of big wrecks unfold, taking some of the contenders out of the mix. But yet, he had been able to avoid each of those incidents due to running up front.
With laps counting down, she knew that it was all in her driver’s hands. Given that he was good at Daytona and knew how to draft, she felt confident in their chances.
She kept her eyes firmly locked on the monitor, watching as he continued to fight within the field. She tried to keep herself calm, despite the lap count getting smaller and smaller. However, the moment she saw them split him and he started sliding back, she felt her temper boil a little, punching the pit box with her fist.
“Easy…..,” Travis comments as he rubs her shoulder. “He’s got 20 laps. He knows how to get back up there. Plus, we don’t need you getting injured this early in the season.” She could only chuckle at her car chief’s comments as she looked over her fist. He did have a solid point as there was still time.
“I’m betting that hurt more than you thought it would,” Kevin Meendering offers as he hands her a cold bottle of water. She just holds it against the fingers, shaking her head yes.
“I wasn’t thinking about the possible pain when I did it,” she offers as she glances over, seeing no blood or bruising.
“Careful Trav, we’ll have to be on injury patrol all year.” Travis just chuckles as Angelica gives Kevin a small punch. “Hey! Careful lady. You don’t want to knock me off of here now do you?”
“This is only our second race together and you’re teasing me?” She questions as he shrugs his shoulders. With a glance at Travis, the pair could only smile. Teasing was something that they did often on the pit box to keep things loose so they wouldn’t get too tense with nerves.
“We’re just teaching you our ways, ma’am,” Travis tells her as she rolls her eyes.
However, while she wanted to act annoyed with the pair, she was smiling on the inside. It was nice to see a quick, easy rep developing across the board as that would make working together in the future easily. Combined with the friendship that her and Dale had formed, she had high hopes beyond Daytona.
Their eyes then laid back on the action on track, watching the cars go by on the front stretch and then letting their eyes stay glued to the monitor. They watched as the No. 88 car maneuvered its way through the field, finding the lines that were moving with passes made each lap. As the lap count got smaller, they watched their position continue to improve. There was one thing for certain – they had an amazing car with an amazing driver behind the wheel.
“Five to go,” they heard T.J.’s call over the radio as he continued to act like an air traffic controller, telling Dale where everyone was around him and what line was moving.
Angelica could only smile as she listened. She believed that spotting on a restrictor plate track was a true art form in how much work it took from the spotter to keep the driver informed on where they were. When she worked with Jimmie, Chad and Ron, she’d always sit back on the pit box and listen at awe with Earl’s spotting. She was brought back to that same feeling, but felt more pride in watching Dale in knowing that it was her car with her set-up underneath it.
They watched the final laps play out as Dale continued to try and work his way to the front, though as he got closer to the front, it all died out. The front top-five didn’t want to dice as much as those in the back were, therefore not opening any big doors to allow for a big run to the front.
When the checkered flag flew, she smiled as they crossed the line with a fourth place finish. It wasn’t the victory that they had been hoping for, but it was a good solid finish. That’d mark some confidence and good vibes going into the rest of the season together.
She then glanced down the rest of the scoring monitor, seeing that Kevin Harvick had picked up the win – no surprise with how strong SHR had been the past couple of seasons. It was nice to see Kasey start off his season with a second place finish after the struggles last year, and there was no complaints in seeing Jamie McMurray finish third, either. In honesty, she was more impressed by the day that HMS had as a whole as beyond Kasey finishing second and Dale finishing fourth, they had Jimmie finishing sixth with Chase finishing ninth.
“Fourth place bud,” T.J. calls over the radio. “Solid job out there today. Great job working your way back to the front those last 20 laps.”
“Great job today guys!” Dale tells the team. “Angelica, spectacular job on the car with Travis and Kevin. Great pit stops today, too. I shouldn’t had made the move when I did there.” Angelica lets out a sigh, knowing that perhaps he was right in that comment. However, she wasn’t going that get him down.
“You were doing what you thought you needed to put yourself in a position to win,” she tells him. “Sometimes the move pays off, and sometimes the move back fires against you. In this case, it just didn’t work out as you planned and you fell back. You fought and got back to the front, and I’m proud of you for that. Great job out there today. We’ll take the solid finish and go to Phoenix next week and go after it again.”
“10-4. I think we’re going to have a good season this year.” Angelica smiles, having the same positive vibes with how the week had gone.
“10-4 I think so, too.”
Chapter 19: Post Daytona 500
Angelica set her headset down, closing up the notebooks with a couple high-fives for the various crew members. She then headed down the steps, before heading down pit road where Dale was parked. She watched as he climbed out, and began the slew of post-race interviews. She stood back, arms crossed, watching with a smile on her face. It was certainly nice to start off the year on a good note.
“Nice job,” she hears and glances over her shoulder to see the boss standing there.
“Thank you,” she replies as she gives him a quick hug. It was nice to hear compliments, especially from the boss.
“You guys worked well together throughout the race and had a strong finish. I think the best part was listening to you after the race in your comments to him about the move that he made. It’s those uplifting comments and great conversation back and forth that will carry you both forward this year.” She smiles, having not thought much about the comments when she said them. It just came out as part of the job, and was truly how she felt about the situation.
“Thank you, sir, but I think it’ll also take putting together the right set-ups.” He then shakes his head, agreeing.
“I know that you can do that based on the boys have told me. Just stay confident in yourself and your abilities and you’ll be fine.” She shakes her head, agreeing. “And I take it that I don’t have to worry about what you told me previously, right?” She then looks at him a little confused. “The relat-”
“Absolutely not, sir. Dale and I have talked about it and worked it out accordingly.” Rick smiled as he knew that was a great first step and was glad to see the pair getting off on a good note. However, it also left him the curious as to what could happen down the road. He had heard a couple of the garage rumors.
“And what are we going to do about the rumors?” She then rolls her eyes, knowing that she had to go see Denny before leaving the track that weekend and kill him. However, that wouldn’t be the best thing to tell her boss.
“Ignore them because it doesn’t matter to me what they say. All that matters is the performance on track, the fact that Dale and I have a good relationship together, and the fact that the team is working together, as they’re supposed to.” Rick could only continue smiling at that comment as it was refreshing to hear a rookie crew chief put everything behind her.
“That’s the spirit. I’m glad that Chad has trained you well in that sense.” She then laughs to herself, wondering if he’d be thinking the same if she told him the truth.
“Chad and Ron were great teachers. I have no doubt that I have the ability to get the job done this year and put this team in the Chase.” For most rookies, their first season would be about getting solid results and perhaps a win. However, with Hendrick Motorsports, it didn’t work that way. The pressure was on you right away and you had to perform with putting your team in contention on a weekly basis. She then smiles as Dale finishes up his last interview, walking over to where she was standing with Rick. “Nice job today.”
“Nice job on the pit box,” Dale replies as he gives her a hug. “You did a great job, actually.”
“You did a great job behind the wheel, too,” she tells him as she pulls back, looking into his eyes. Even though she had expressed her comments over the radio, she could still see the bit of disappointment in his eyes. “Honestly, Dale, you did a spectacular job. Sure, a couple moves didn’t pan out the way you wanted but that’s the game that you play in restrictor plate racing. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. But you did a great job rebounding for a great finish.”
“She’s right,” Rick adds, smiling at their conversation. “It’s a great starting point for you both this year.”
“Thank you sir,” Dale replies as he keeps his eyes locked on Angelica. “I think you’ve found a gem with this crew chief.” Rick could smile, knowing that perhaps there was more than he was letting on.
“I’m glad that it’s working out. Hopefully it blossoms and produces great results.” Dale kept his eyes on Angelica as a smile formed on his face.
“I have no doubt about that.” He then glances away, noticing Mike Davis standing there a little impatient. “I have to go to the media center and continue answering questions since you did such a great job. Do you need me back at the hauler after to debrief?” She shakes her head no, knowing they could do that on Monday at HMS. “Alrighty then. I’ll see you this week.” She shakes her head as she watches him walk away.
“I have other drivers to go see so I will let you go and pack up and do what you need to do,” Rick says as she shakes her head. She then give him one more hand-shake before watching him head off down pit road to see Jimmie.
She then turns on her feet, heading back to the pit box to pack up her stuff while Travis and Kevin pushed the car to post-race inspection area. She knew that it was going to be a long night with the post-race inspection process, but she was willing to accept that. Long nights meant a great result on track, and that was the goal at hand.
“Excuse me – Ms. Lockson?” She hears as she works at putting her things away. She finishes collecting her stuff before climbing down the steps of the pit box to face the reporter.
“How are you doing, Wendy?” She asks with a smile. Wendy Venturini was one of the reporter that she had gotten used to commonly seeing in the garage area, sometimes doing interviews with for MRN.
“I’m doing great,” Wendy offers. “I just wanted to tell you congratulations on a great job today, and hitting the mark as the highest finishing female crew chief in NASCAR history.” Angelica could only smile at those words, but knew in the end that they didn’t mean much. Sure, it was nice to be in the record books for NASCAR, but she wasn’t there to be the best female. She was simply there to do the best job.
“Well, thank you. It’s cool to say that but you know me better than anyone. I’m not here to simply be the best female, but the best crew chief – well, give me a couple weeks or so but you get my idea.” Wendy shakes her head, understanding.
“Trust me, I know what you’re saying. Danica told me the same thing when I gave her the same phrase as best female driver. It’s what the network wants me to tell you, though, as that’s the reason why I am here. Are you willing to do an interview before you head off?” Angelica smiles, knowing that it came with the job. Plus, the boys didn’t need her quite yet as they could start the process without her.
“Go ahead, Wendy.” Wendy then cues back to the broadcast people that she has Angelica ready on stand-by for an interview.
Chapter 20: Hammy!!!
Once she was done the interview with Wendy, she thanked her for her time and walked off. She then checked in the boys, seeing how things wee going with post-race technical inspection.
“Everything is going smoothly,” Travis offers as she smiles back in return. “NASCAR hasn’t had a problem with anything so far, and the boys are taking apart what they’ve requested.” She then glances at the list, shrugging her shoulders. It was nothing surprising as it followed NASCAR’s normal list of things to check on the cars.
“So I can go kill someone and not have to worry about you guys?” She questions as Travis looks at her a little concerned.
“Whose body will I be helping you dump in the lake?” She then laughs, though also feels a bit of shock. She hadn’t wanted it to slip that she was going to see Denny.
“Denny. It seems he’s the one that started the rumors, so I am going to go give him a peace of my mind.” Travis immediately rolls his eyes. He wasn’t set for drama starting between teams, but understood her reasoning. Besides, he heard some rumblings that she had a past with Denny.
“Go for it. I got this under control.”
“Thanks Travis.” She gives him a quick pat on the back before heading off towards the motorcoach lot.
She knew that following the race, Denny was the type to get done his interviews and then go back to the motorcoach. He would get a shower, get dressed, pack up the stuff he wanted to take with him on the plane, send a couple of quick text messages, before heading off. If she was timing things right, he’d be there right now packing things up or sending those messages.
Normally, she’d get one of those messages. Given their friendship, she’d text him post-race each week, with each a congratulatory note or a sympathy note, depending on how his day went. He would then send back a note in response, either thanking her or starting up a discussion. However, given her current anger with him, she hadn’t bothered on sending him a congratulatory message. It didn’t matter to her that he had finished eighth on the day.
She walks over to his motorcoach, trying the door handle. In most cases, he wasn’t ‘careful’ and always left the door unlocked, telling her that nobody would ever sneak in and do anything. She always gave him horror stories, and told him to not come crying to her if some crazy dude did indeed sneak in.
As expected, the door was unlocked so she opened it and walked up the steps, glancing around for the driver in question. As she watched the door slip closed behind her, she was glad that they were in a quiet spot as she knew this wasn’t going to be pretty, given her feelings.
“Angelica!” He lets out as he comes out of the bedsroom, curious as to why he had heard the door. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and t-shirt, just about set to leave.
“Hammy!” She yells back in response, knowing how much it irritated him when she called him that.
“You had a good day – your driver finished fourth. Why are you acting like your world has been tipped upside down?” She had to laugh at how he was ignoring the clear fact before him with the mess that he had started.
“Because I want you to tell me what the hell is going on!” He then looks at her confused.
“What do you mean?” She felt herself ready to burst out laughing. Was he for real?
“My own crew came to me today asking whether Dale and I were dating. According to Matt, it so happens that they overheard Dustin and Brandon talking about it. It seems funny considering those two are on your team and we had an interesting discussion that left you unhappy about my current situation with Dale. Now want to tell me the truth, Hamlin?” Denny then looks at her surprised, silently cursing his guys. They weren’t supposed to make it seem so obvious that he had started the rumor.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, honestly. I had nothing to do with the rumor, Angelica. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.” She just laughs as she looks away from him.
“For some reason, I don’t believ-”
“And why not? Is Dale filling your head with stories?” Her eyes immediately land on Denny’s, anger beginning to boil immediately.
“You don’t know nothing about the relationship that Dale and I have, Denny.” Denny then smiles as he closes the gap between them.
“I know that he broke your heart and I was left picking up the pieces.” She then takes a deep breath, trying to keep herself calm and resist the urge to strangle him.
“That’s in the past. Everybody makes mistakes. He made a mistake and yes, it broke my heart. However, I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt and forgave him for the mistake.” Denny then crosses his arms, curious by her words.
“Oh, so you’re back together just like that?” She then shakes her head no.
“No, I’m taking it slow as I told you I was going to the other night, the same night that you told me that I should be careful and you weren’t sure. It’s funny how this rumor surfaces right after that. It’s funny how you act all surprised upon hearing about it, despite everybody knowing. It’s also funny how you thought Dale was the one filling my head with stories, when he hasn’t even mentioned your name. He’s been focused on forming a friendship with me so we can work together as professionals, not acting like a kid and worrying about jealous little freaks like you.” She then takes a step back, taking a deep breath to calm herself down.
It was in that moment that she realized that Denny’s comments the other night weren’t out of worry, but jealousy. Despite him trying to rekindle things with Kendra for the sake of his daughter, he still had feelings for her. It was why he was trying to push her away from reforming a friendship with Dale. It was why he expressed those concerns. It was also why he had started the rumor, in hope of causing issues for the pair.
“I can’t believe you!” She then yells, shoving him back away from her. “I can’t believe honestly believe you. Haven’t you matured at all? Haven’t you realized that playing games isn’t going to get what you want?” Denny knew he could keep denying it, but what was the point of that? She had caught him on everything.
“I can’t deny the feelings that I have for you,” he offers. “I can’t deny that I still love you, Angelica.” She then shakes her head in disbelief. This wasn’t how she pictured this discussion going.
“You’re right – you can’t deny your heart that fact. But if you love someone, is it fair to try and mess up their life? Is it fair to start rumors about them? Is it fair to try and break apart their friendships in hopes of getting what you want? You’re doing the exact opposite of what you should be doing if you truly care about me. Truthfully, you’re acting like a spoiled brat who didn’t get his way. If that’s how you’re going to be, don’t expect me to come around and see you anymore. Till you do some growing up we’re done, Hamlin.” She then turns around and heads for the door.
“Angelica!” She keeps her eyes focused forward as she reaches the door. “Angelica, please. Let me expla-”
“Save your breath!” She then opens the door, walking outside and slamming it back shut as hard as she could before walking away.
She then walks through the motorcoach lot, running her hands through her hair in disbelief, shaking her head.
Coming into the season, she was worried about how her and Dale would handle working together despite their past. They had been able to work it out with ease as professionals, and find the friendship they both dearly cherished during their time together. She was worried about how the performance would go on track and whether she could work with the guys. That had been proven with how solid they were across the weekend, and the chemistry that they had already formed.
Through it all, though, she thought that she’d have her best friend by her side, just like he had been since they met 10 years ago, supporting her and able to share stories along the way. Instead, he was creating a mess for her to deal with and clean up – just because he still loved her and wanted to rekindle the magic that they had.
She shook her head, knowing that she couldn’t go back down that road with Denny. He was a great friend, but nothing in the relationship department clicked. When they tried it, it worked for a couple of weeks – simply because he helped her picked up the pieces of heartbreak. Though beyond that, there was nothing that made it stick and she knew that it wasn’t meant to be. No matter his feelings, she wasn’t going back down the road and that was something that he would have to learn deal with, rather than do stupid things out of jealousy.
“And to think I thought you having a kid would help you grow up and mature some,” she comments to herself with a laugh.
She could only wish Kendra the best of luck, wondering how things were turning out there. Stacey Hamlin was now a year old, and being balanced between a pair of parents who couldn’t find that balance. Kendra still wanted to be one of the track bunnies, while Denny had his mind stuck on other thoughts. She could only hope that Denny started to grow up and do the right thing for his daughter.
However, she wasn’t about to get herself stuck in that mess.
She was done with Denny’s games. Instead, she was going to focus on herself. She had a race team to crew chief for with calls to make and cars to set-up. She couldn’t chase him around and help him straighten things up. That was now his responsibility. He was 34 years old after all.
She also couldn’t help but smile as she looked back at the weekend. From the discussion on the dock by Lake Lloyd, to the night of go-karting, to the random chats in the hauler. Everything this weekend with Dale had gone way better than expected. In fact, it was perhaps bringing back those same butterflies that had them get together in the first place. Perhaps they were meant to be; perhaps he had learned from his lesson and they could make it work this time around.
However, while her heart fluttered at the sound of his voice or a glance into his eyes, she wasn’t about to accept yet. She wanted to be sure this time as she didn’t know if she could handle having her heart broken by him a second time around.