Friday, November 10 – Phoenix Raceway
After a nice week away, it was just like clockwork as they were back to the daily grind at Phoenix Raceway. So far, the day hadn’t gone that bad. Sarina was fourth in the lone truck practice session, while Chase led the Cup session.
“So I take it those adjustments worked?” Alan questions afterwards as Chase nods his head.
“That was worth taking the time to do,” he comments as Alan glances over the notes, before setting them aside.
“We should qualify well later on today. Then I say we tweak on the car a little more tomorrow, and we’ll be fine for Sunday. We’re going to get this right.” Chase believed in the crew chief’s words as it was now or never to win that weekend.
“We’ve missed out on a couple different opportunities to win these last couple of months. I don’t see why we can’t win this weekend. I mean, I’m going to be disappointed if we don’t make the final four.” Alan could understand that, based on their performance, but he wasn’t quite that far down the radar.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed as we’ve done a lot better this year than we did last year, and we’re starting to find our groove here at the end of the year. If anything, it makes me look that much more forward to next year – not that I’m writing off this season, yet.” Chase understood where the crew chief was coming from, but felt thinking of next year was pointless right now.
“Let’s just stay focused on the task at hand, and get the job done – deal?” Alan nods his head, accepting, but his eyes don’t leave his driver one bit through the whole conversation.
“You’re quieter than normal…” Chase looks over surprised. “I just noticed that you got something else on your mind. Would I be right?” Chase just smiles back in return. It should be obvious what’s going on.
“Well, you do realize my trip got cut short because we had to go to Florida, right?” Alan nods his head, having heard about that minor detail. It was the next stage in the trial against Sarina’s brother Chris for everything that had happened. It was Chris’ turn to testify against the charges laid in his favor. “To be honest, he was smart with what he said. He stated enough words that it would make you believe there’s doubt that he poisoned me and Ryan. Now if the jury sees that, and doesn’t consider the other evidence enough, you know what happens.”
“But okay, let’s say they find him not guilty on those two charges. There are five other counts of poisoning that he pled guilty to, along with two other minor charges. Isn’t that worth enough time in jail?” Chase nods his head, having already done the math as he tried convince Sarina things were going to work out in their favor.
“He’ll be away for at least 60 years, if not 80, depending how the judge sees fit – which is great as you’re right, that is ample time. The problem lies in the fact of parole and making sure that he can’t sneak out under psychological insanity. Both terms need to be clear as day so he can’t sneak around them, or that chance of him doing something again is always there.” Alan could understand the theory behind that, and one look into Chase’s eyes said everything he needed to know.
“And that worries you, right?” Chase looks up at Alan and nods his head.
“It’s not the easiest thing to say, Alan, but he scares the bloody crap out of me. There’s twice now that he almost has gone too far – the plane crash, and the pois-”
“Don’t remind me of Daytona, please…” Alan didn’t need a reminder of what he saw that day, and the panic that set in once he found Chase up in the hauler. He was fine moving forward without any reminders. However, he understood how that played with Chase’s thoughts right now. “I absolutely understand the fear, and trust me – it’s not something to joke about, or realize that it’s not coming from a good place. You have every reason to feel the way that you do. I hope for your sake, and Sarina’s, that it plays out the way you want. I know what it would mean to finally have that peace of mind.” Chase laughs a little. “What?”
“Peace of mind? Please, I don’t think I’m going to get that. It seems Allison is great at showing up at the loveliest of times.” Alan nods his head, having seen her appearance at Texas.
“Well, at least you’ll be one step closer to that if you manage to get Chris where you need to.” Chase could live with that statement. “That makes me wonder. Exploring her family and finding more people that have connections to her, Chris, and Bethany. Do you worry about uncovering something that doesn’t need to be?” Chase shakes his head no right away.
“The potential of closing that chapter for her, and helping her deal with those feelings by finding something, outweighs that entirely. By the way, we are getting closer to the first piece of the puzzle.” Alan looks over surprised.
“Really?” Chase nods his head, remembering the text message he received.
“I think I’ll have it unwrapped and really down that road by Christmas.” Alan smiles, knowing exactly what Chase had in mind already. But still, a tinge of fear was there in knowing what had happened so far.
“Just be careful, okay?” Chase nods his head, accepting.
Following qualifying, Christopher Bell made his way down pit road to where Sarina’s pit was, patiently waiting as she discussed things over with Marcus Richmond. He then smiled as he caught her attention, with her walking over right away.
“Hey,” he simply says. “Nice job.” She then crosses her arms, with a smile of her own. Truthfully, she wished it was role reversal but instead, he got the pole with her second.
“I should be telling you nice job there,” she comments as he simply smiles back in return. “We’ve got a pair of good trucks.”
“That doesn’t surprise me, actually. Look, I stopped on my way down here because I just wanted to check on you. Are you okay?” She then looks at him confused.
“Why would I need someone to chec-”
“Yesterday, your brother, and everything that happened.” She then takes a deep breath, as she glances away from Christopher for a moment.
“I was actually trying to put that out of mind, truthfully.” He then glances down at the ground. “But hey, it’s okay. I’m still pissed and upset at what he did. All I care is that he gets locked away so he can’t do it again. He said what he had to say and now we’ll see what happens. If the courts do their job, I won’t have anything to worry about.”
“Do you think they will?” He didn’t mean to press the issue too far, but he couldn’t help but ask. He knew while she wanted to avoid, getting her to talk about it some would help.
“I think so. It’s clear as day that he was behind the other attacks, and he has a past history with Chase. If you add that together, no matter what freaking story he tries to con up to cover the last two, a little kid could put together that he was responsible. I don’t see there being any problems.” She then flashes trademark smile. “Hence why I am focused on this weekend, tonight, and kicking your ass.”
“Oh really?” She nods her head as he could only look back with a grin. “Well, we’ll just have to see what happens tonight. By the way, I’m not going to take it easy on you just because you’re my teammate and having a rough stretch…”
“I wouldn’t expect otherwise. Good luck tonight.”
“Right back at ‘cha.” He then heads off to his pole award photos, while she makes her way up pit road, knowing Cup qualifying was next on the docket.
“Uh oh, someone looks like he’s got something serious on the mind…” Ryan comments as he watches Chase walk by him following the qualifying runs. The session had gone decently, with Chase ending up qualifying fourth. The fun factor was the front row being made up of Ryan and Denny. “Thinking about if you should wreck Hamlin on Lap 1?” Chase laughs and shakes his head no.
“Chase wreck someone on purpose? That’d never happen,” a new voice chimes in as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walks over to the pair. “Sorry, but I don’t see you doing that ever…”
“Never say never. Danica did tell us she’d never date another driver, and she’s been with you for a couple of years.” Chase grins between them, impressed with those words. “She also said she’d never be one to hang around the dirt tracks and oh wait, isn’t she doing that now?”
“So are you really going to wreck Denny on the first lap?” Chase laughs, enjoying the suspicions about his plans for Sunday.
“I don’t have any plans to wreck Denny on the first lap or at all,” Chase reveals. “I’m actually going to be solely focused on winning so I can be part of the Championship 4. And for your knowledge, Mr. Blaney, Sunday’s race is not even what I am thinking about.” Ryan then looks at him puzzled, but immediately has his suspicions.
“Are you thinking about Chris?” He wonders, though knew if that was the topic at hand they should walk away from Ricky now.
“I heard he had the trial on Thurs-” Ricky starts, having seen something about it in his twitter feed.
“It’s not about Chris, either,” Chase cuts him off, even though he had thought about it a little since his conversation with Alan earlier. He figured he might as well tell the pair, anyway. It’s not like they could spoil the surprise and maybe they’d have advice. “So I’m trying to find Sarina’s family – real family that she ran away from. She had six uncles and an aunt. I had someone looking into the information and he’s located the majority of those people, and they check out to be decent. Now it’s figuring out the best way to reach out to them.”
“What if you just call them one day?” Ryan suggests, not seeing the big deal in this process.
“They may not answer the phone so I say you just show up on their front door,” Ricky adds as Chase rolls his eyes. This wasn’t quite the advice he was looking for.
“What if they’re crazy and attack him?” Chase then looks at Ryan full of complete shock, with Ryan just shrugging his shoulders in response. “What? It could happen.”
“Good point. Bring security with you…” Chase rolls his eyes as he couldn’t believe he had enlisted these two.
“Joshua suggested that the first person we reach out to be someone that Sarina really knew well, trusted, and liked,” Chase continues. “But she doesn’t talk much about her family – except her dad here and there. How do I find out that person?” Ryan and Ricky were caught off-guard by the question, but knew there had to be a solution eventually.
“How about you tell her about what you’re doing?” Ricky questions and Chase shakes his head immediately. He wasn’t ready to ruin the surprise, yet.
“That’d ruin the surprise.” Ricky almost felt like smacking himself in the head.
“What if you bring up some stories, and see if she’ll complement with some of her own?” Ryan suggests. “Or maybe ask about family vacations, and tell a memorable story of your own. Just try to bring it out in casual conversation.”
“Or you could talk to people that have known her longer than you have and see if they know,” Ricky adds. Chase nods his head, accepting the advice. It was certainly somewhere to start.
He knew those concerns could be worried about later, as for now, he had a truck race to focus on. Seeing how strong she was through practice and qualifying, there were some high hopes entering the evening.
Chase watched as she pulled ahead early, leading a chunk of the laps, before Christopher got back around her for the top spot, leading the rest of the way in the opening stage. The second stage went smoothly, as well, with Christopher leading the whole thing as she ended up second.
Chase watched the slew of pit stops, small fist pump in the air as the teammates came off pit road together 1-2. Could this go any better?
The start of the third stage worked out perfectly, as she pulled ahead, taking the top spot. A smile formed on his face as he watched her pull further away from Christopher and the rest of the field, destined for smooth sailing from here on out.
Of course, none of these races come that easily as the caution would fly with 27 laps to go for a truck slowing. Marcus immediately made the call for Sarina to stay out, sighting the importance of track position, lack of tire fall off, and having enough fuel to make it to the end.
The ensuing restart did not go smoothly, as a move by Austin Cindric, followed by a block from Ben Rhodes, saw Ben spin around and hit the inside barrier hard, before collecting Matt Crafton in the process.
“Are you kidding me?!?” Chase says out loud, disbelief forming between the late race incident to the fact the pair had collided in their battle for the final transfer spot in that way.
“Same thing that Carl and Joey did last year,” Kyle comments from his vantage point, referring to the wreck at Homestead while battling for the championship. “Ben never should’ve blocked.” Chase nods his head in agreement.
“He had to know that would happen as soon as he went down. But, does Austin make that move stick with enough room if they get to turn one? We’d probably see a repeat of Kenseth and Bowman here last year.” Kyle smiles, as he thinks back to Martinsville a couple weeks ago.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures. Both were desperate to make a statement and get to the next round.” Chase couldn’t help but agree, and began to wonder if the same type of move would be what it would take to transfer tomorrow.
After a lengthy clean-up – including a red flag, everything was set to go for another attempt at the restart. This time, the green lasted a little longer as they were able to at least make a lap – but it didn’t take long for the caution, either. Six-wide through the dog leg on the backstretch resulted in contact in turn three, and several torn up trucks.
“That definitely wasn’t going to work,” Kyle comments after seeing the replay, shaking his head in surprise. “Ridiculous…”
“Are we ever going to finish this race?” Chase wonders, glancing at the lap count. Through the chaos, Sarina had managed to hold the lead with Christopher in second. There wasn’t much left now…
The restart came with 10 laps to go, and all eyes locked on the action in seeing Sarina and Christopher battle alongside each other for the lead. Both Chase and Kyle felt like they were going to jump out of their skin and nerves as they saw both trucks get a little sideways, followed by a little bit of bumping.
Neither driver lifted through the whole process, and finally with five laps to go, everything came to a head. Sarina got loose underneath Christopher off of turn four, truck spinning around, and backing into the outside wall, followed by Christopher slapping the wall with the right side of his truck. The wreck wasn’t over there, yet, as Justin Haley was left nowhere to go, hitting just behind the driver’s door of Sarina’s truck as it rolled across the track.
“Are you fucking kidding me?!?” Kyle asked out loud, standing up in complete disbelief as he looked at the pair of torn up trucks. “They led all the laps to this point…”
Chase had his fair share of anger over the contact, almost set to give Christopher a piece of his mind, but that didn’t matter in that very moment as he sat there, eyes closed, waiting for the familiar words over the radio.
“I’m okay,” he hears after a bit, taking a deep breath to calm his own nerves.
He watches as she climbs out of the truck, taking a breather for a moment as she lays her head on the roof. Chase could feel each part inside of him ripping apart, concern filled in thinking about the pain that she could be in.
He felt somewhat relieved in watching her climb out the rest of the way, followed by walking with the official to the ambulance for the trip back to the care center.
Making his way down the steps and set to join her, he could only wonder as to what’s to come.