Moving Forward – Chapter 23: Daytona Pre-Race Con’t

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February 2016 – Sunday 

Alan sat quietly for a couple more minutes, allowing Chase to fully get himself calmed down from the ordeal.

He trusted the guys, especially Josh to handle things on pit road. Josh Kirk was Alan’s right-hand man, responsible for whatever the crew chief slung his way. Thus far, he had impressed in handling everything with ease.

It was why he knew that he could solely focus on his driver at that moment, making sure that he was calmed down and ready to go for the race, or whatever direction that he felt they needed to talk. He truly believed giving him the space with the conversation would be enough to get him set for the day ahead, as once he was in the car, everything would be chilled out.

“Are you okay?” He finally asks after some time has gone by, watching Chase glance up and shake his head yes. “Okay. Remember what I said – no one is upset with what happened as we understand that you’re still working at moving forward. Also, the guys will have it handled so you don’t have to worry about anyone saying anything. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” Chase says quietly as Alan gives him a questioning glance. He respected the young man’s manners, but never felt comfortable with being called sir.

“What did I tell you about that?” Chase looks up sheepishly.

“Sorry. It’s habit.” Alan shakes his head understanding.

“It’s not the worse thing that I could have to handle, as far as habits. It also shows another reason I love you – the level of respect that you have. But anyways, enough about that. What’s your focus going to be once we go back to pit road?” Chase knew the answer, but couldn’t help but wonder what everybody else would have to say.

“Focusing on the day ahead, getting behind the wheel and doing the best job that I can.” Alan shakes his head, approving as he stands up.

“Well, if you’re ready to head back there, we can head over….together.” Chase stands up, takes a deep breath before trading a glance with the crew chief.

The pair then emerge from their hiding spot behind the pit box, heading back to pit road. There were a couple of eyes that glanced down their way, some of them filled with concern while others filled with questions. There were also a bunch that didn’t even bother to glance in their direction, going about their business as usual. Chase couldn’t help but notice each set of eyes.

The pressure was on to perform as he was supposed to be the next big star in the sport. He wanted to live up to not only the expectations of others, but the ones that he had placed on his shoulders. People could accuse him of overstepping those boundaries at times, but it was his way of handling things. If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right.

The pressure right now was creating this burden on his shoulders. He wondered how many would judge his performance during the race. He wondered how many would judge what happened pre-race. Shaking his head, he tried to get the thoughts out of his mind, knowing once he was settled in the car, there’d be no issues.

The pair eventually reunite up with the crew, with some of the guys immediately giving Chase a fist-pump or a hug, having had their own tinge of worry in seeing the events just prior.

“Nobody should say a word,” Josh whispered as he gave him a hug. “We just told everyone that you needed a moment to yourself with everything that happened. Given what you went through last year, it seemed to go over without any issues. We didn’t even hint towards the panic, though.” Chase shakes his head as he glances around, noticing a couple sets of eyes staring.

“It doesn’t stop them from looking even if you say went well,” he comments in return as Alan glances over.

 

“Focus on what I said,” Alan reminds him. “We’ll handle anything that comes your way.” Chase hated to agree to those terms, not wanting to have a babysitter so to speak. However, in that moment, he knew that he had to listen if he was going to keep making steps forward.

“Your parents said that they’d be here shortly to see you,” Josh adds as Chase shakes his head yes. That was something that was welcoming as he knew with his parents by his side that it’d help make things easier.

Further down pit road, the feeling of commotion could also be felt at the 88 car with Dale getting set for the day. Marie had brought both girls out to pit road with her, holding Elsa in her arms. Once reaching the car, though, it seemed the new addition was involved in a game of hot potato as the crew guys each wanted to hold her.

“I see someone not happy right now,” Kevin Meendering says as he kneels down to Alyssa’s level. “Where’s our pre-race smile?” She then glances over and shrugs her shoulders before glancing back at her sister. The youngster couldn’t help but be jealous in the attention that the new kid in town was getting. “What’s wrong, Alyssa?”

“Am I still ‘pecial?” Alyssa asks as she looks at the engineer. Kevin felt a small, sympathizing smile form on his face. He knew that it was always an adjustment for any family with a new addition.

“Of course you’re still special. You’ll always be special to your parents, to each of us guys, your family, to everybody. Both you and Elsa are special in your own ways and are loved the same amount.” Alyssa glances at her sister, before focusing her eyes back on him.

“I don’t know…” Kevin then pulls her close to him.

“Just because we’re not passing you around and holding you doesn’t mean that we love you any less, okay? We love you just as much and you’re always a special piece of this team. But I will tell you that if you get lonely, I can give you a hug, talk to you or play game, okay?” A small smile forms her face as she shakes her head yes.

“Thank you Kevin!” She then wraps her arms around him tightly as he hugs her back with a smile.

“Say, want to sit in the car?” She shakes her head yes. The engineer instantly picks her up, putting her in the car. She immediately sits down on the seat with her hands on the steering wheel.

“She looks like a natural in there,” their team PR rep comments as she takes a photo, sending it out to twitter.

“She’s definitely her daddy’s little girl,” Kevin offers as he focuses back on her.

It seemed the rest of pre-race went by easily, with the pre-race prayer and anthem in the books with no issues.

Down at the 24 car, it seemed as though the incident never happened as Chase got set to climb in the car. He offered a hug to each of his parents, one to Alan and one to Josh before climbing in. If you asked him anything about what happened, it was an after thought.

At the 88 car, it was the same story as Dale went through his usual pre-race ritual of giving both Marie and Alyssa a kiss, while adding a new kiss to the group for Elsa. He was quickly set to go, buckled in the car.

“You’re thinking…” Greg comments as he kneels down by Dale’s window. With having spent the previous season working with Chase, he had caught on to where you could tell if someone was thinking about something or having a flashback.

“Just thinking how much things have changed in a year,” Dale replies. “Can you believe that just a year ago we were sitting here, unsure of so many things, scared, but yet on the verge of victory? It’s crazy….” Greg shakes his head in agreement, having spent enough time within the circle to know the specifics.

“But, everything worked out and I can assure you that this year is going to be much better. Everybody is going to put what happened behind them and focus on having a great future, which begins today with a Daytona 500 victory.” Dale smiles as he gives the crew chief a quick high-five.

“I like you’re thinking.”

“You know what to do, boss.” Greg then puts the window net up, giving him a final fist-pump before heading to the pit box.

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapter 29: Garage Winks

LoveWorkAComboOfMadness

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Following the date arrangements from the night before, it seemed the pair entered the extra day with a bit of extra pep in their step.

Dale was excited for the week to come, set to plan the perfect date night for the pair of them together. Angelica was glad to have the pressure of hiding her feelings off of the plate, but also an understanding with Dale about taking it slow.

With the extra stress off of their shoulders for separate reasons, the pair simply traded a smile, set to focus on the upcoming day and what would come. They couldn’t think about the discussion or what was to come. It was time to focus and get the car working well ahead of Sunday’s race.

The weekend had started off to a good note as beyond the dating arrangements, Dale had qualified the car in the seventh spot. That meant that they’d good track position to start off the day. If they got the car close to good, he could break into the top-five and remain there throughout the day, hopefully finding that extra edge in the closing laps to capture the victory.

“Are we trying the set-up that we worked out last night in the hauler?” Dale questions as he walks in the garage, eyes locked on the familiar brunette that seemed to always capture his attention. She shakes her head yes as Kevin Meendering offers a wink at the crew guys. William Harrell simply rolls his eyes, knowing what Kevin was implying by night discussion in hauler glance, but knew it was probably all work between the pair.

“That’s the one that you believe will feel the best, and I believe will work the best based on yesterday’s practice so that’s where we’re going to start,” Angelica replies as she glances up from her clipboard. She then walks over to him, keeping her eyes locked on his blue eyes. “Unless you want to try something else.”

“Nope, that one sounds perfect.” She smiles as she gives him a pat on the shoulder.

“Good, because practice starts in five minutes so I expect your ass in that car.” She then lowers her tone with the next couple of words so nobody else could hear her. “Don’t expect me to change how I run my garage just because we’re dating.”

“I wouldn’t dare expect that from you. Keep work separate from play, right?” She smiles as she heads out of the garage, set to take her normal stance on top of the hauler. He then puts his helmet over his head, climbing into the car as the crew mates simply trade glances all around.

Once he is in the car and they back him out, set to line-up on pit road, Kevin and Travis head out of the stall to join Angelica on top of the hauler. Kevin takes his spot next to her, loading the timing and scoring on the screen as Travis holds his notebook close to him.

“Mr. Meendering, can I ask you a question?” Angelica asks, catching Kevin off-guard. Normally everybody was referred to by their first name.

“You can simply just call me Kev-” He starts as she looks over at him.

“What was that glance in the garage about? I saw the glance that you offered a bunch of the guys, followed by the roll of the eyes from William.” He could exactly tell why she had given him the last name treatment by the tone of her voice as Travis crossed his arms and looked over in curiousity. It was going to be hard to talk his way out of this one.

“We had taken bets as to whether Dale would accept the set-up that you told us to put in the car, or ask for changes. Considering he listened to you immediately, that meant that I won the bet so I gave him a wink as if to pay me up later.” She could tell that he was lying immediately, and knew that she had to keep an eye on the guys. IT was obvious that they hadn’t gotten the message last week. With the fact that Dale and her were going to truly start dating behind the scenes, it’d mean that they’d have to be extra careful.

“Okay. I was just curious since there’s been some interesting activity around the garage lately.” Travis couldn’t help but smile as he shared a glance with Kevin. If she was worried about small things like that, it meant there was probably more to the story with Dale than she had told them previously.

“I’ve heard the rumors and stories, but I believe when my driver and crew chief tell me that they’re not dating that they’re telling the truth.” She shakes her head in approval as she puts on her headset, set for the day of work.

The practice went off without a hitch with no issues as each run, they were able to make Dale more comfortable in the car while showing good speed on the charts. With the practices over, everybody separated to do their own thing. Angelica needed to run to the store to grab some things, Dale wanted to watch the XFINITY race with his team, and the crew set on having a late lunch together.

Of course, the lunch together brought forth discussions about what happened on the hauler, and whether there was something going on.

“I thin there’s something going on and it’s just a matter of time before one of us figure it out,” Kevin offers after sharing what happened. “Why would she be defensive otherwise?”

“I told you there was flirting at Daytona, and that continued last weekend at Phoenix,” David starts, causing an immediate eye roll from William. “Flirting leads to eventually realizing the feelings. They spend a night in the hauler discussing supposedly, and boom, next thing there’s going to be a date.”

“It wasn’t flirting the past couple of weeks,” William comments. “They were simply working together. All these comments about extra eye glances are for no reason at all. You’re just seeing things that you want to believe for your own suspicions.”

“Then why would she be so suspicious about our actions?” Kevin questions as William shrugs his shoulders.

“The article came out and caused a big mess this week. They’re trying to squash that immediately. She probably was just making sure that we weren’t adding to the mess that was already out there. It’s a reasonable explanation. If the crew is causing more things to be spread, then it causes the rumor to continue.” Kevin couldn’t help but smirk as other theories entered his mind, picturing some deep hearted conversation during their night together.

“What if the rumors are continuing for other reasons?” William lets out a sigh as he rolls his eyes. There was nothing that was going to convince the crew guy otherwise, it seemed. Although, it seemed that Kevin had a good reason to make sure that they ended up together.

“You’re just wishing that because you don’t want to show everybody your weeewee.”

“If we’re having these discussions in March, that gives a good opportunity for magic to happen in three months,” Nick interrupts the pair. “I think you better be selecting the style of bra and skirt that you’re going to wear, William.”

“I already have a couple selections for you to choose from,” Kevin adds with a smile, as he brings up some images on his phone.

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapter 28: A Date

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Congratulations to Denny Hamlin on winning the Daytona 500. That was a great move to cap off the race. I have to admit that I didn’t start off as the biggest Denny Hamlin fan, but have sort of grown to like him more through the years. Of course, he’s still someone that hits the inspiration for stories with his tales of “little black book” as confessed on national television haha

As far as Dale Jr. in the 500…..cue the tears for Amelia. 😦

With the week behind them, everybody tried to go forth into the following weekend with an open-weekend. The article was set to be the last thought on their minds as the number one focus was going to be on trying to find the right set-up and win that weekend.  Everything else didn’t matter when hey hit the track in their minds.

It seemed that others had different thoughts in looking at them, as rumblings could be heard in all directions. While Dale and Angelica both had put down the rumors in their tweets, it seemed that half of the people disregarded what they said. There were still crew members throughout the garage on other teams that continued to make comments about them possibly being together, and hiding it in their sight. There were also fans that spied, looking for any sign of a romantic relationship amongst their driver-crew chief discussions. There were fans that accused Angelica of taking the job just so she could get closer to Dale, spend more time with him and end up with him for her own objectives.

“It seems everybody is talking about our magic couple of the garage,” Kevin Meendering lets out as he picks up the clipboard to go over the notes that Travis had made, along with the numbers from the first session on track. “Perhaps this is easier than I imagined.”

“You can thank Denny, Dustin and Brandon for this,” Dustin says as he over at the engineer. “It has nothing to do with them actually being together. It’s all based on some rumors put out, followed by everybody else making their own assumptions. You are no where closer to winning the bet than you were before.” Kevin shakes his head in disagreement as he makes a couple notes, before handing the clipboard back to Travis.

“I disagree as this is only going to bring them closer together. They’re going to bond more in trying to deal with everything that comes from the rumors being spread, allowing them to rekindle the old magic and hit the jackpot.” Kevin then looks away from the front wheel well where Dustin was over towards the rear, where he found William working. “I hope you have bought a coconut bra to wear.”

“I hope you’re not going to be ashamed when everybody sees how short of a dick you have,” William shoots back, causing laughs and shocked expressions amongst the whole team. “This could actually drive them apart in frustration, though, in having to hear about it. It could bring less discussion in not wanting to drum up more stories. So in theory, it could work against them as well.”

The whole conversation caught Travis’ attention as he tried to focus on his job of setting up all the notes from the entire team for Angelica to look over before qualifying. He found himself hopeful for the pair, but also worried as to what could become of the future. What if this affected their on-track relationship?

Taking a deep breath and shaking his head, he knew that he couldn’t worry about that. They were both professional and would handle it accordingly. They had told Rick that they were fine working together, and could fight through whatever came their way. For that reason, he knew that he just had to focus on his job and do what he could do to help the team, while allowing everybody else to fall in place as it may.

It was still entertaining to hear the antics of the crew, as well as think about the possibilities of what could happen in the shop later on that year, depending how things went. Part of him hoped that Angelica and Dale ended up together as he didn’t know if he could handle seeing Kevin naked.

Though while the crew debated it, the driver and crew chief was sitting in the hauler, enjoying lunch together as they debriefed everything from the practice session earlier that day.

They talked about the single-car runs that they made, and the differences that Dale felt between them. They talked about what he felt, the practice times on the chart, what the track conditions were like, and worked at developing a strategy for qualifying.

They also discussed some things in trying to figure out which way to go in regards to the race set-up, trying to figure out the best way to set themselves up for success this weekend. The discussion went forth in figuring out some ideas on things to try during the pair of practice sessions on Saturday.

“Dale, remember how we stated that we were going to take things slow and see how our friendship went before we moved forward?” She interrupts the discussion surrounding ideas for Saturday, catching him off-guard. He simply shook his head accepting, remembering the discussion but also curious as to her direction. “How concrete was that?”

“What do you mean?” Dale questions as she takes a deep breath, thinking things over clearly. She just hoped that her heart wasn’t causing her brain to jump the gun. Like Jimmie and Denny had told her multiple times, she knew that she couldn’t bear getting her heart broken again.

“We agreed to take things slow, focus on being friends and the professional side. We told each other that we’d go into a relationship when the time was right. Was the amount of time that we had to wait concrete or set?” Dale found himself looking at her in disbelief in what he was hearing. It was as if she was asking whether they could cross the relationship barrier already. What happened to how uptight she was a couple weeks ago? Was this really happening?

“I never gave you a time that you had to follow. I always told you that it was up to you, when you felt the time was right. I wanted to go right back to that, but understood waiting because you were still hurting…” She shakes her head, remembering that pain that she felt. It was why she found herself second guessing everything that she was saying. However, she couldn’t find a way to hold it back.

“I wanted to hold back, and I wanted to wait. I wanted to make sure that it was right in my heart and to my brain, but my heart is telling me something over and over that I couldn’t ignore. It’s something that’s been there for the past week or so, locked in without an escape key.” She then glances down, before looking back up straight into his blue eyes. “I don’t think there’s a way that I can resist you any longer. I think I’ve fallen back in love with you without any escape.”

“You’re serious, right?” Angelica shakes her head yes as Dale just sits there with a look of shock on his face. He had always wondered if this could happen sometime down the road and work out for him. However, he never thought that it’d be possible. Was this really happening? “I never fell out of love for you, despite what happened. It just made me realize how much I really do love you actually. I was always open to getting back together.”

“I don’t think I could’ve ever found anyone to replace you, or make up for the love that we had. It was just special, unique, great, and every word in the book. We all make mistakes, but we grow and move past them at the same time. I think that’s where we find ourselves. You’ve realized your mistake and grown to move past that layer. I’ve realized my mistakes, as I’ve made some over the years too, and matured over the years.” Dale then moves a little closer to her, keeping his eyes locked on hers. He didn’t want to let go of the moment. He was waiting for someone to wake him up from this dream.

“So what are you saying?” She then smiles as she takes her hand into his.

“I’m saying that I’m willing to give us a try once again. I’m willing to accept your offer on a date or two ,and see where things go.” Dale smiles as that was the best news that he had heard in weeks.

“What do you say we pick a night next week and go on a date together?” She smiles and shakes her head yes. “I have to ask this, though. Are we going to tell everyone that we’re together quite yet?” She then takes a deep breath. It was a difficult balance, especially considering that they were also driver and crew chief.

“I think we should continue down the road that we chose in taking our time. Start off with a couple dates, and letting ourselves grow back closer, being more personal. Then if that works out and we find that this relationship thing may not be so bad, then maybe we can tell some friends and the world.” Dale shook his head in agreement as he wasn’t going to offer nay complaints. If he could get his Angelica back in anyway shape or form, that’s all that mattered. He also understood her apprehensions, still, but was glad that they were making steps. It was progress, and that was better than where they stood a month ago.

“That’s fine. It’ll be our secret as we see where we want to go with this. You pick a night and I’ll make you dinner at my house.” She then looks over, thinking of the possibilities. It was tough to figure out a night that she’d be free as it seemed the past couple of weeks she had spent every night at the shop working on the car. However, she wanted to put effort into this as she was really curious to see whether they could grow back together once again.

“Thursday night. I need Monday thru Wednesday to work on the car, but we can do it Thursday night before we head out to Atlanta.”

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapters 21 & 22

Chapter 21: Office Discussions

Following a strong weekend with a fourth place finish, the office meetings were going smoothly for Angelica on Monday.

She had her sit down chat with the fellow HMS crew chiefs, sharing a couple notes from the race and discussing set-up ideas for the upcoming race at Atlanta. She then sat in the pit crew meeting with their coach Greg Morin, who went through areas where the team could improve based on some minor slip-ups down pit stops. The final meeting on her agenda was a meeting with Dale, Travis and Kevin to discuss things from their perspective with the race, and ideas for Atlanta.

Like the other meetings, it went smoothly with some great discussions across the table. Once the meeting was complete, Travis and Kevin quickly put together their notes and headed out, set to go about their next duty of the day. Travis had to finish breaking down the car with some of the shop guys, while Kevin had an engineering staff meeting.

“Is there a reason that you’re still standing in my office?” Angelica questions as she finally looks up from her notebook after making some final notes from the meeting. She had noticed that Dale hadn’t moved from his seat, keeping his eyes locked on the crew chief.

“Did you talk to Hamlin as you intended to?” He asks and she immediately rolls her eyes. Since leaving his hauler on Sunday night, she was set on forgetting about him and moving forward. She didn’t want to think about his jealous antics for any more seconds. She didn’t want to think about their argument. She didn’t want to think about how their friendship was falling piece by piece because of his attitude. In her mind, she was set to move forward and focus on her job, and possible future with Dale.

“Yeah, I went and talked to him. I can’t promise that he’ll shut up about things, but he knows that I’m not happy with him either way.” Dale could tell by her vague details that there had been things discussed that she was trying to avoid touching upon again.

“Okay, that’s fair. Even if he tries to say anything, the guys know better than to listen to him now. But, do you want to talk about what exactly was said?” She then glances up, catching his eyes. It was easy to be perfectly honest with him as they always had an open relationship. Given how well the weekend had gone, she didn’t want to hold back any secrets.

“Let’s just say that he purposely started the rumors because he’s jealous. He still has feelings for me and wants to be with me. He’s also worried that you’re going to break my heart again because he can’t put the past in the past.” She then lets out a sigh as she sets her pen down, seeing as how the comments had taken Dale back a step. “Listen, Denny and I perhaps went out for a bit. We have a great friendship – or had as of right now – and I thought that he was a great guy. I learned of his little black book games and broke up with him on my terms. He wasn’t pleased as he wasn’t set to let me go. Let’s just say that he still has those feelings.” Dale felt like biting his tongue for thinking about asking the question, but it was worth asking if they were being honest.

“Do you have any feelings for him?” Angelica shakes her head no in return, just wanting to strangle Denny at the current moment.

“He’s just a friend and nothing more, as I told you on the weekend. That’s all he will ever be. He may not even be that if he doesn’t grow up.” Dale shook his head, understanding. There was also the other half of her statement lingering. He knew how much she trusted Denny before with the friendship and his judgment.

“And what about his comments about me?” Angelica shrugs her shoulders, not really caring what Denny had told her.

“He’s still stuck on what happened before. He doesn’t understand the discussion that we had. He doesn’t understand the agreement that we have, and how we’re working at things slow. He can say what he wants in his advice as far as what I should do about you in the future, but that doesn’t matter to me. That’s solely my decision and will be made solely based on my own opinion. You have nothing to worry about, Dale.” She felt like kicking herself in the butt for the final sentence as she felt she had purely admitted her feelings without holding back at all.

“I’m glad. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m worrying for no reas-”

“It’s fine, Dale. I get the fear and worry because as you told me before, you still like me a lot and feel that we should be back together. You don’t have to apologize. I appreciate you expressing that with me and talking it out, just like I appreciate you giving me the time that I need.” She wanted to emphasize ‘time’ as she knew jumping in before she was ready could quite possibly result in a lot of problems, both personally and professionally.

“Take the time that you need. I know how much I hurt you and I want you to be as comfortable as possible if we do get together. I’ll let you get to work now.” He then stands up and walks to the door, glancing back at her. “Should I bring you dinner later?” She then holds back her urge to say yes instantly and shakes her head no. She had to take things slow.

“I’m good for tonight, Dale. Thanks for the offer though.” He then gives her a quick wave and heads off as she leans back in her chair and simply smiles.

 

Chapter 22: Crew Discussion

The crew guys knew how things stood with Angelica and Dale per the discussion before the race. They also were set on keeping their mouths shut around them to not cause any trouble. However, that didn’t mean that they weren’t a little suspicious and having thoughts of their own.

Throughout the year, the guys would all do some nights together. If you’re always working with the same group of people, you become good friends and end up hanging out away from the work. That was the case as they all went out for dinner following work on Wednesday.

“So what’s this deal that’s been spread about Dale and Angelica?” Jackman Nick Covey asks after they finish eating. Travis, Kevin, William and Matt then look over with curious glances. “While David and I were discussing things on Sunday morning, we overheard your discussion. I’m curious.” William then rolls his eyes, as he had hoped the discussions would lay off.

“The pair used to date in the past,” rear tire carrier William Harrell starts explaining. “It happened during her first year at HMS after her and Dale crossed paths in the shop late one night, according to what Cameron told me. Brandon and Dustin off of Hamlin’s team were trying to start some rumor about them dating, which it seems the other twits began to believe, but it’s not true. Angelica confirmed that they used to date, but they’re not now. They’ve simply worked at putting the past in the past, and working together as friends and employees. If something happens, it happens.”

“Why would Rick put them together if they had dated, though?” Car chief Travis Mack wonders as the crew guys shrug their shoulders.

“They were quiet about their relationship. The only way that Cameron found out was he was there late one night with her because they were working together on the 48 team. They went out for five or six months, actually.” Some of the guys then glance over surprised as a smile forms on Kevin Meendering’s face. From the beginning, he was set on believing that they would end up together at the end of the season.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them dating,” Kevin shares, catching the other guy’s attention. “Have you seen those two around each other? You can tell that there’s something there. It’s just a matter of time.” William rolls his eyes, having grown annoyed of Kevin’s thoughts.

“How long is it going to take to convince you otherwise?” William then questions as Kevin shrugs his shoulders.

“Don’t be surprised if we find them kissing in victory lane later on this year.” William then crosses his arms.

“So what is this spark that you see anyway?” Kevin then smiles, remembering that afternoon in the garage.

“Did you see the way they were on Saturday before practice? The glances from Dale, her smile back in return. They’re showing all the early signs of flirting. Plus, you could also add to pre-race on pit road. The chemistry was there in how they handled the situation surrounding Denny with ease and in sync. I’m telling you that I will be right in the end.”

“That in sync and ease comes from their working relationship,” Travis comments. “Do I need to remind you how easily things went on raceday? They have a good balance.”

“Besides, if it didn’t work the first time around, why try again?” William adds. “And do you think they want to risk taking that next step forward and ruining things and hurting the team?” Kevin tried to think over what the pair were saying, but it still spelled relationship to him.

“If they really like each other enough and think it will work this time, they could try it,” David Mayo offers. “Just because it didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean that the same thing will happen this time. If the feelings are still there, they could use the first relationship as a way to make things better this time.” David then takes a sip of his drink as a smile forms on his face. “Now that you bring it up, Dale has been giving her a keen eye and notice how he stayed back after we all left to talk to her by herself?”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Kevin states with a big smile as William rolls his eyes.

“It could’ve been for any reason,” he tries to reason. “What if they had some other notes to go over? There were times that he’d stay back to talk to Steve or Greg. I don’t think he was screwing one of them.” Some of the guys burst out laughing as Kevin shakes his head.

“You keep living in denial and I’ll be rubbing the eventual kiss in your face later on this year.”

“So you honestly think that they will end up together by the end of the season?” Travis questions with a glance over at Kevin and he shakes his head yes.

“I tell you what – I bet they’ll end up together by the end of the year – no, by the summer in July, or I will go streaking through the shop,” Kevin declares as some of the guys look on shocked and laugh.

“I don’t know if I want to agree this bet and see that sight,” William comments.

“Fine – that’s write that down officially, and if it happens – I’m recording it to show the world,” Travis states as he marks it down in his phone. “So if they get together by the beginning of July, you’re off the hook. But if they’re not, you are going to be taking those clothes off.”

“And if you get fired, it’s not my fault.” Kevin then crosses his arms with a smile.

“I don’t have nothing to worry about,” he comments. “Now, if they do end up together, you should have to do something.” William shakes his head no as Kevin’s smile widens.

“I’m not streaking.”

“You could agree to have a pie thrown at your face or wear an embarrassing costume for a day,” Matt Tyrrell offers.

“I say if they don’t end up together, you have to dress up in a coconut bra and grass skirt,” Kevin challenges as William shrugs his shoulders. Considering it wouldn’t be happening, he had nothing to worry about.

“Fine – you’re on.”

“This should be fun, if anything,” Nick Covey comments as he finishes his drink.

“And Kevin, no trying to play matchmaker and help them together so you win the bet,” Matt states. “And William, no trying to screw up any chemistry if anything forms. Deal?” Both crewmen shake their heads yes. “In honesty, this doesn’t surprise me. I knew as soon as we started that discussion in Daytona that there’d be a bet formed somewhere.”

“Honestly, what do you guys think?” Kevin questions. “Do you think there is something there? Let’s go around the table, beginning with our esteemed car chief.” Travis then smiles as he thinks it over. He wasn’t 100% sure as he was curious to their relationship, but didn’t know if it went past a simple really good crew chief-driver relationship.

“I think there could be something there, but don’t think it’ll go anywhere,” Travis comments. “I think it’s just a good balance, as I originally told you.” He then glances over at Matt, who simply shakes his head no. As he thought about it more, he couldn’t see the pair of them getting together. “No comment?” Matt shakes his head no.

“Remember – this guy is trying to be the guy that keeps things fair between Kevin and William,” Nick reminds them as he thinks over the question himself. “I think we’re going to get to see just how small Kevin’s wee-wee is by the summer.”

“Seriously?” Kevin questions and Nick shakes his head yes.

“See, I’m not the only one who believes there’s nothing there,” William says.

“Well, I for one believe that there is something,” David starts. “Dale is showing the early flirting signs – as I hinted. It’s just a matter of Angelica accepting them. Considering they were able to put their past in the past, I think it’ll happen sooner than later.”

“It all depends on how far they’ve put the past,” Front Tire Carrier Dustin Lineback starts. “Is it far enough back for a relationship? Or just far enough to work together and be successful?”

“After hearing all of the evidence, I find the accused able to get together,” Devin DelRicco shares. “It’s just a matter of time people, especially if we win a race in the next couple of weeks.”

“So you’re thinking victory sex?” Nick questions and Devin shakes his head yes with a grin. “If we win this weekend and she ends up having a baby in November, oh boy the teasing will be totally fun. Somebody please mark down when we win races just incase.”

“That’d be fun – a baby and a championship trophy,” Kevin comments as William rolls his eyes.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” William says. “I suggest you start finding out the quickest way to run around the shop and not get caught by the boss.”

“Well, I suggest you find out what size coconuts you’re going to need.”

 

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapters 17 Thru 20

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.

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapter 24: CampingWorld.com 500(k)

Dale leaned back against the car, letting out a sigh as he looked towards the swarm of crew members.

They had a good run going. Angelica had kept up on the adjustments and he had done a good job behind the wheel. They were running solidly in the top-five, poised for a good day, perhaps set to challenge for the win.

However, then it happened.

Smoke began to trail behind the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet with oil pouring out everywhere. It was the worst sight and sound that a racecar driver, crew member or anybody could see and hear.

Their day was over just like that with engine issues.

“Hated to see that,” Dale hears as he glances up, watching the boss walk into the garage stall. “Any warning?” Dale shakes his head no.

“No issues throughout the day, no issue with temperature, no issues with it shifting out of gear or anything – it just went without a surprise,” Dale comments, glancing back towards the HMS officials. He hoped that one of the engine guys had a reason for the failure as it just plain sucked right now.

“That sucks, majorly. Like I said, sorry to see it happen.” Dale could only shrug his shoulders as he looked back towards Rick. He knew that Rick didn’t mean to have it happen and that Rick wanted to see him succeed just as much as any of the other drivers in the organization. Even though Rick ran the company, he shouldn’t shoulder the blame.

“Hey, it happens. Sometimes you blow an engine, right? We don’t have issues a lot so one here or there isn’t going to cause me to complain. At least we were running strong, and things are going well with Angelica. We’ll get our win.” Rick couldn’t help but smile in hearing that things were going well, especially after Angelica’s concerns in the earlier weeks of the season based on their past.

“That’s what I like to hear – on all fronts. So things are seriously going okay with you guys?” Dale shook his head yes as he kept his eyes on Rick. He knew why Rick had the concerns, having heard that he now knew the past of that Angelica and Dale had together. There was certainly concerns there now, not that they were needed.

“Trust me – they’re going great. We’re working together really well without any issues, working through handling issues just like that. Beyond that, we have developed a good friendship together. I have no complaints, Rick.” That wasn’t the total truth, though.

Dale did have a complaint – he wanted to get to that relationship stage with Angelica now, rather than waiting and giving her the time that she needed. However, he respected her and understood the heartbreak that she felt. He understood that she needed the time, and was fine with that. As long as he had a possible chance for the future, then things were fine.

“Are you talking about me, again?” A female voice interrupts the pair as they look towards Angelica with a smile.

“Rick was just asking how we were working together,” Dale answers with a smile. “I told him that things were going great without any issues, and we had a good friendship together.” Angelica couldn’t help but shake her head in agreement. She honestly had nothing to complain about right now – well, except the engine and Denny. She still felt stung by the argument that they had and what he did last weekend in Daytona.

“Is he lying?” Rick asks and Angelica shakes her head no.

“That’s the honest truth, sir,” she assures him with a smile. “Truthfully, I couldn’t ask for a better driver to work with. He’s not only great in the ways that he said, but he’s also very understanding. He gives me the right bit of encouragement when I need it, and helps with the issues that come up from being a rookie crew chief.” Rick shakes his head, impressed. He was proud of the strength in their working relationship, but also in Dale’s behavior. If the partnership had happened a couple years prior, it probably wouldn’t resulted in that same compliment. Perhaps he owed Steve yet another thank you.

“Thanks for the compliments, but I’m just doing my part in helping this team work together well,” Dale says as she simply continues smiling.

“You’re doing more than you should, though, and that should be recognized. So thank you.” The continued compliments brought encouragement to Dale’s outlook as perhaps he’d get to cross the bridge sooner than he was thinking in creating a relationship.

Those compliments were also heard by the crew members as they worked at putting things away and helping out the engine guys in figuring out what happened. It resulted in a couple smiles amongst them, while others simply shrugged it off.

“I told you something was there,” Travis states with his own smile. “I’m not the only person that is recognizing it as look at the grin on the boss’ face.” Kevin crosses his arms with a smile as he looks over at William.

“You better start checking out what size that you’ll need as this bet will be done and over with before you can say the longest word in the dictionary a 100 times,” Kevin teases as William rolls his eyes. “Just check out the compliments that she’s giving him, along with an extra bit of confidence to boot.”

“Perhaps you’re simply reading too far into it, though, and they’re just focused on the work relationship – as Rick was implying from the start,” Dustin suggests as Kevin shakes his head no with a certain level of certainty.

“Why would she add the second boost of confidence then? Why would they trade those clever smiles? Travis said that they’ve been in the early stages of flirting, and I’m sorry – but that proves it right there.”

“This is going to be an interesting season,” Travis muses as he walks away from the group, clipboard in hand as he goes over some notes.

He knew there was something there. He had been curious all along. He had seen the early signs of flirting. He had also caught the recent exchange between the pair.

He just hoped that whatever happened moving forward didn’t negatively affect their performance.

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – The Missing Chapters

So currently, I do not have access to the previous spot that I had saved chapters 17 thru 22. With that said, here is the summery of the missing chapters.

The missing chapters saw the pair continue to rekindle their friendship.

There were some rumors spread around about the pair dating as the 88 crew heard of them via someone on Denny’s team. Angelica and Dale explained to the crew that they had a past, but had left it there and were set on just a friendship right now.

Dale ended up finishing fourth in the Daytona 500. He had a real strong car, but just ended up in the wrong line at the end of the race. Angelica was credited with calling a great race, and it gave the crew guys hope moving forward.

Angelica went and saw Denny following the Daytona 500, finding out that the rumors had clearly started from him. it was discovered through an argument that it was done out of jealousy as he still has a crush on her and was finding ways to sabotage their relationship. Angelica told Denny that he needs to grow up, focus on his daughter & Kendra, and left in frustration with thoughts of no future relations.

The crew guys ended up having a night out together that resulted in some bets being formed, as well as sharing their thoughts on the pair. Here’s a summary of their thoughts:

  • Car Chief Travis Mack – curious; says something is there
  • Engineer Kevin Mendering – trying to stick them together – says they’ll be together by July or he’s going streaking through the shop
  • Rear Tire Carrier William “Rowdy” Harrell – serious tone surrounding the pair; set that nothing is going on – says they won’t be together by July and if they are, will wear a coconut bra and grass skirt
  • Gasman Matt Tyrrell – trying to be the balance inbetween but says they won’t get together
  • Jackman Nick Covey – thinks they’ll get together
  • Front Tire Changer – David Mayo – says that he sees the beg stage of flirting from Dale