Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 82: “You’re an All-Star!”

Sarina walks into the hauler, lets out a sigh as she flops back on the couch.

She had been quick throughout testing and practice, even laying down the quickest lap ever seen at Bristol in a super late model. However, come qualifying, everything went to shit and she ended up mid-pack. That was just going to make Sunday interesting.

She hears her phone go off, lets out a sigh as she sees the caller ID and answers the call.

“You should’ve gone with one of my late models….” She hears Kyle’s tone and rolls her eyes immediately. He never missed an opportunity to rub it in how she should be running Kyle Busch Motorsports late models to go with the truck. However, she liked working with Ricky Turner.

“Do I need to remind you of the practice speed set earlier today?” She questions in response.

“You didn’t get the job done when it counted, though. What happened?” She knew the explanation, having spoken with Ricky already. It didn’t make her happy, but it is what it is.

“We didn’t adjust correctly for the changing conditions. We went a little too far and she was just a tick loose. That’s not the best feeling when flying around this half-mile.” She hears a chuckle at his end, glad that she at least got a laugh out of him.

“Well, least you know you have a good car. I’m coming up after the All-Star race tomorrow to watch. Strangely, your boyfriend is the one giving me the ride.” Sarina could only laugh as she wondered how a flight with Kyle and Chase would go.

“Well, I’d suggest finishing second to him tonight so he doesn’t leave you stranded at the airport.” She hears a laugh in response, knowing there was no chance in Kyle listening to her suggestion.

“Hey, your boy has to qualify first. Good luck with that.” She then lets out a sigh. In her heart, Chase should’ve been qualified already for this event. There were a couple races last year he should’ve run, and a couple already they should’ve had. Instead, he was stuck in the Open and hopefully would be able to snag one of the segment wins.  “If it makes you feel better, I voted Daniel for the fan vote.”

“That’s just mean!”

“He’s my teammate. I couldn’t just not vote for him….”

“You could’ve and not told anyone. Regardless, it’s going to be a good night. I got some popcorn and me and Ricky are set to relax, and watch him kick butt in the open.”

“Well then I better let you go. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye Kyle.” She then hangs up, letting out a sigh as she relaxes back on the couch.

“You know he’s going to rub it in like hell if Chase doesn’t qualify….” Ricky comments as Sarina rolls her eyes. She wasn’t ready to accept that fate tonight.

She sat there, nerves at a high at times, as she watched him battled amongst the top-three through all the segments. However, one after the other, he came up short of winning, including a loss by just a bumper in one of them.

“Are you kidding me?!?” She lets out after the final segment as Ricky gives her a glance.

“We have the fan vote….” Ricky suggests as she rolls her eyes. She already had the winner picked out for that.

“It’ll be Danica because she’s Ms. Pretty Princes-”

“You’re forgetting her selfish act after Almirola hurt his back. That lost her a bunch of respect.” Sarina remembered that interview well, and how she wanted to strangle Danica for not being more thankful and worried on Aric’s part.

“Well there’s also Matt DiBenedetto. Look at the campaign he put together!” Ricky crosses his arms as he places a smile on his face.

“You’re not giving your boy enough credit. He’s an Elliott. Elliotts are popular. Just ask Bill.”  Sure enough, Ricky predicted it correctly as they announced Chase as the fan vote winner. “See?”

“Well, least we got a reason to watch tonight…” She then stands up, grabbing a drink out of the mini fridge, before returning back to her spot on the couch.

“What about your boss? Is he not a good enough reason?” She then rolls her eyes, though knew that Ricky was right as she didn’t mind watching Kyle at all.

Throughout the night, she kept her eyes locked on the television screen.

She found herself impressed with a couple of Chase’s strong moments, allowing him to be one of the 10 drivers in the final segment. She wasn’t exactly happy with the finish, but knew that they’d learned a lot ahead of the Coke 600.

A smile still found her face, though, in watching the event as she let out a big cheer in the restart that Kyle got to start the final segment, taking Jimmie and Brad three-wide into turn one and grabbing the lead. From there on, he flat-out dominated and snagged the win.

With the race completed, the pair headed out to grab a quick snack at the local Waffle House before heading to bed. They walked in, caught off-guard by the group sitting at one of the tables.

“I heard the guy will be alright but still….” They heard one person say.

“That’s just scary,” another commented as the group shook their heads in unison.

“They’re supposed to put an advisory in the morning to be careful around the track and with what you accept,” she noticed Christian Eckes comment. “Remind me not to go to the Bristol snack bar tomorrow.”

“What’s going on?” She asks, catching Christian’s attention. She hated to interrupt a conversation that she was originally not part of, but she hoped Christian excused her given their friendship and how well they had gotten to know each other with racing across the country.

“Someone was poisoned at Bristol today,” he reveals. “Supposedly they ate or drank something – not sure from where – but it had something in it and they were throwing up pretty bad. The guys said that he’d be okay as they got him to the hospital in time, but still. It just seems strange.” She shakes her head in agreement.

“Very strange. Thanks for the heads-up, though. Good luck tomorrow.”

“Same to you.” She then walks over to where Ricky had sat down, taking a seat across from him.

“Did you hear?” Ricky shakes his head yes, as he was caught off-guard as well.

Who would poison someone at a race track?

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

Sarina glances over the car, letting out a sigh as she leans back against it. If only she had qualified better…..

The next day at Bristol, she started where she had qualified – in the back half of the top-20, and began to slowly make her way forward. However, a pair of cars got together in front of her, leaving her nowhere to go as she crashed into them, resulting in heavy front end damage and the end of her Short Track Nationals.

“And we just had fixed it, too,” she comments, remembering the most recent outing with the car as she looks over at Ricky. “I’m sorry….”

“It’s my fault for screwing up yesterday,” he replies as he leans back beside her. “As long as you’re okay, that’s what matters.” She looks over, shaking her head yes.

“I’m fine…” She then glances down, twirling her ankle around a couple times, which caught the attention of Kyle as his eyes looked down.

“Twirling your foot?” He questions as she looks over at him.

“They said that it’d be tender for a bit after I wrecked at Talladega,” she answers. “It’s fine, just a tick stiff and whatnot. You don’t need to worry, okay?” He shakes his head, understanding.

“As long as you’re ready for the Monster in a couple weeks….” She then smiles, having looked forward to going to Dover from the beginning of the year. It was one of the races she had circled on the schedule when they put this deal together.

“Miles isn’t touching me….” Kyle then laughs, knowing how things usually went at Dover for rookies. He just had his fingers crossed that they avoided the usual rookie downfalls.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 80: The City of Oz

Sarina lets out a sigh as she leans back against her truck, twirling her ankle, before taking a glance down pit road. She just wanted to put together a solid run to keep the momentum rolling after the last race.

“My little superstar ready to go?” Crew chief Marcus Richmond questions as he walks over. She shakes her head yes. “That’s good. I’m just glad that you’re here ready to go tonight.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” She questions as he points to her foot. She then lets out a sigh. “It’s just a sprain, pretty much almost healed. Gonna be like Chase and go crazy over it?” Marcus then looks at her with a glance of surprise.

“So he’s on your case that much this week?” She shakes her head yes as he lets out a whistle. “What?”

“That boy has it hard for you, probably more than you realize…” She just rolls her eyes. “Actually, maybe you have it just as much. I’m guessing you freaked a little after he flew at Talladega?”

“Wheels left the ground – doesn’t that warrant a freak out?” He shrugs his shoulders. “Besides, I was going to kill Hootie.” Marcus then looks back confused.

“Hootie?” She shakes her head yes. “Who the hell is Hootie?”

“A stuffed animal that Hooters gave him. I figure it’s the curse of our bad luck.” Marcus glances over as he sees Chase heading their way.

“You didn’t bring the owl with you this weekend, did you?” She shakes her head no. “Just checking….”

“Superstitious?” He then puts his hands up in the air.

“I’m not taking any chances based on how we started this year.” She lets out a sigh as he walks away, knowing it hadn’t been the prettiest start. They told her that sometimes rookie have a rough learning curve and things don’t go their way, but that didn’t mean she was pleased about it.

**********

Chase climbs up onto the pit box, taking his usual seat in the second row, catching a couple concerning glances. It had been hard to convince some of the crew guys to allow him to sit up there with fears that he’d steal notes or something for GMS Racing or Hendrick Motorsports to use. However, Kyle worked at it, explaining the reasoning was simply to just support Sarina and Chase would never do that. It didn’t mean that he didn’t get the cold shoulder at times, though.

His eyes focus immediately to the No. 18 Switch Toyota Tundra on track, hopeful for a great night of racing. Ultimately, the night didn’t start out as planned with contact between Sarina and Ben Rhodes on Lap 2 after going three-wide.

“There was no room for him!” Sarina yells on the radio, referring to Rhodes.

“10-4 truck looks fine,” her spotter tells her. “Just focus on the task at hand.”

She didn’t argue with her team, knowing that she had a job to do. She also didn’t argue when Marcus made the choice to pit with 10 laps to go in the stage, knowing they weren’t close to getting points and they’d gain valuable track position when everybody else pitted.

The strategy call looked to have worked as she restart fourth, though everything fell apart with 26 laps to go in the second stage when she headed down pit road with a flat tire.

“The carcass rolled back out on the track,” her spotter radios.

“Take your time team, do it right; we’re going to be fine,” Marucs tells him team as Chase sits back, watching. He could only shake his head as it didn’t seemed like Sarina could never catch a break.

She went back on track, though was unable to make up any ground as she continued to fall further back in the running order, laps down to the leaders.

“Something is wrong with the clutch. I’m pretty sure it’s gone,” She radios, not liking how it felt at all.

“Bring it to the garage,” Marcus says as Chase lets out a sigh. He could only think about the disappointment for both Sarina and the team in yet another day gone bad.

He walked back to the garage area, standing back as the crew looked over the truck and she climbed out. He let her debrief with the guys, not wanting to interrupt them as he knew what was like about her racing and knew he wouldn’t want to be interrupted himself. They were both the type that once in their zone, don’t mess it up.

Eventually she makes her way over to where he was standing leaning against the pillar, texting someone. He immediately puts his phone in his pocket, pulling her close and wrapping his arma around her.

“You were doing a great job,” he tells her. “None of that was your fault as you were doing great out there. It’s just one of those shitty luck deals. You were fast, and you’ll get them next week at Charlotte. You’re going to have a great year. I believe in you…” He then kisses her forehead as he keeps her held close to him. He knew how hard she could be on herself – having done the same thing himself through the years. He also knew how she let frustration eat at her sometimes. He didn’t know the magic touch to make it go away, but knew comforting words helped ease the sting.

“As much as I want to scream and throw a tantrum, you’re right,” she replies as she looks up into his eyes. “But I learned a lot tonight. I learned more about racing in traffic. I learned about restarts. I’m starting to understand these intermediate tracks more. We’re making progress.”

“That’s my girl right there. That’s what I want to hear.” They then head out of the garage area together, knowing they both needed their sleep. Chase had a race tomorrow, while she was off to Bristol to do some testing ahead of the Short Track Nationals. “I hate that you’re testing tomorrow….”

“I hate being away from you, but it’s part of the game. We’re not going to win if we don’t test.” He knew that she was right, based on where the program was the last time the late model was out.

“I’m just glad that you agreed to drive for me again instead of Kyle.” She then laughs, remembering the discussion had about that.

“Oh see, I didn’t say yes because of you. I said yes because of Ricky. I miss our fun times.” He then looks at her a little surprised.

“Oh, so you don’t care that you’re driving for your boyfriend and going to make him proud when you run well?” She felt her nerves flip flop, knowing it was going to be a tough field down there.

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch….” He knew where the comment was coming from – confidence wasn’t as high as warranted with everything going on lately.

“Don’t get down on yourself. You’re a great driver. You damn well earned this shot.” She looks over, shaking her head yes in agreement.

There was not a weekend that went by that she didn’t think back to the days of working on cars by herself, racing underfunded equipment as she tried to get her name out there. She also thought about the journey life took her in moving by herself to North Carolina, escaping what was at home, and the ups-and-downs that brought with moving forward. Perhaps it was the pressure from that pushing her to succeed and pissing her off more when things didn’t go their way.

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

Sarina walks into the trailer, flopping on the couch as she places the bucket of popcorn between them. After solid laps all day at Bristol, her and Ricky had sat down ready to watch the happenings of Kansas.

The race started off strongly for Chase as he ran up front in the early stages, looking like he could contend for the victory. However, a trip down pit road and the world dropped out from underneath them.

“Come on here, come on here,” Alan Gustafson calls over the radio after the second caution of the race. “Right sides.”

“Watch that 95 here – he’s coming in late,” Eddie D’Hondt says over the radio as the pit crew conducts the pit stop. Once the tires are changed, jack goes down, Chase pulls out of the stall throttle down, hitting Michael McDowell and spinning McDowell around.

“Damn it! Back it up here…” Sarina could only echo the frustration of the crew chief, knowing the amount of damage that probably did to Chase’s front end.

“Well there goes our night,” Chase says over the radio. “Fucking awesome!” Sarina then reaches for the remote, switching the race off as she stands up and walks towards the exit.

“That’s it?” Ricky questions as she looks back at him. “They could make it back up….” Sarina then laughs, shaking her head no.

“There’s enough damage there that he’ll be riding around all night,” she replies. “Like he said – night over because Alan can’t damn well do his job properly and clear him leaving the stall!” Ricky’s jaw drops in shock of the anger let out by Sarina.

“Alan knows what he’s doin-”

“Explain why the hell that happened?!?” Ricky takes a deep breath, thinking his efforts would probably be worth nothing based on the anger.

“Alan doesn’t clear him leaving; that’s not what they do. Eddie watches, gives warning, but it’s Chase’s doi-”

“How is Chase supposed to clear his damn self when he probably didn’t see the 95 due to the headrest and visibility in those cars? Are you just trying to make excuses, Ricky?” Ricky shakes his head no as he lets out a sigh. He knew it was worthless.

“I’m just stating how things work. Obviously they’ll probably be changes moving forward. Now, where are you off to?” She then crosses her arms.

“What are you? A cop?” He knew he should’ve probably just shut his mouth right from the start.

“I’m curious, okay?” She then let out a sigh, knowing perhaps she shouldn’t be dishing her anger out at Ricky. She’d just have to kick Alan’s ass next time she saw him.

“I’m going for a walk to cool my head, and then probably going to come back and re-watch the practice videos. I want to see what I’ve been doing wrong. I then may also re-watch the videos of Charlotte that Kyle sent me. Is that okay, officer?” Ricky knew some cooling off time would be very warranted.

“Yeah….” She then smiles, grabbing her phone and leaving.

Ricky sits back on the couch, flipping the race back on, now hoping Jimmie could pull off a win after that disaster.

 

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 56: “It’s the Four Musketeers”

Disclaimer – I am a fan of the musketeers from KBM so don’t be offended if it comes all out the wrong way here at times.

 

 

“Well, well, it’s the four muskateers,” Ricky comments out loud with a small tinge of joke to his face, causing an interesting pair of glances from Kyle and Erik. “What? It fits. Besides, we could hear you all the way from the other end of the hall. If you wanted your conversation and worries to be private, you failed.”

“Blame these two twits,” Christopher says as he points towards Erik and Kyle, earning his turn for the glares.

“Remember – I’m your boss,” Kyle states before looking back over at Ricky and Chase. “Sarina has been a little worried about you and she wanted to see how you were doing. Against the judgment of those two numskulls, I agreed to bring her to see you – as long as you’re okay with it.” Kyle knew it was a touchy subject, having learned the connection between Sarina and Harry – whoops, Chris. It was why he had told Sarina that he’d take the lead, incase Chase was set on chasing her out of the room.

“It’s fine,” Chase accepts, easily. It was nice to know after their fight and his altercation with her brother that she cared enough to stop by and say hello. It was points towards the positive in reconciling.

“Kyle told me about your injuries, per what Ricky said,” Sarina starts as she walks over to the edge of the bed, remaining at the bottom as fear ran through her mind. “How are you feeling, though?”

“Really sore, to be honest. As sore as I was last year when this happened, if not worse.” Sarina felt as though her gut has been punched by the comment, as it served as a reminder that this wasn’t the first time her family had hurt him. It was like there was no hope in making things work down the road. “But, on the bright side, I don’t have a concussion and I’m cleared to run Daytona as planned. Needless to say, I’ll take it.”

“Seriously?” Erik questions and Chase shakes his head yes as he glances towards the fellow youngster.

“I ran last year with my ribs broke so what’s stopping me this year?” Chase offers and Erik couldn’t argue that, remembering how he had looked on in amazement with how Chase handled that situation.

“Are you still running the Clash?” Kyle wondered, simply out of curiosity. It was a question that Chase hadn’t pondered yet. He was for certain going to qualify, run the Duels, and the 500. As far as the rest, there were so many questions.

“I don’t know, yet,” Chase answers truthfully. “It depends how practice goes and whether I feel up to it. With Alex running Dale’s car, I know that I could possibly get Dale to run mine as he’s technically qualified also.” Kyle shakes his head accepting as he couldn’t see a bad thought in how Chase was planning this.

“Would this be the time to explain the deal with Chr-” Christopher Bell starts, catching everyone’s attention.

“Have you not learned yet when to keep your mouth shut?” Erik cuts him off, as Ricky gives them a curious glance. “That’s Sarina’s choice, not yours. However, I don’t believe that she should give Chase the time of day considering what happe-”

“You have no right to judge considering that you weren’t there and you don’t know the dynamics of what was happening,” Ricky cuts Erik off as he stands up. “Kyle, why did you bring the twits, especially if they’re going to talk like this? I mean, Sarina and Chase are going through this together. They know each other well. We’ve both seen that and hence why I accepted his words earlier about her, and why you brought her here. But these two? They may be able to drive, but buy them a clue.” Erik’s jaw drops in shock as Christopher puts his hand over his chest as if to act hurt.

“Ouch!” Christopher lets out as Kyle glances over at his younger driver. Letting out a sigh, he forgot how young the pair were and perhaps their supportive native for Sarina had caused him to overlook the truth here.

“Ricky does have a point, as much it hurts to hear a comment like that directed to you guys,” Kyle starts. “This is their deal, Christopher. Therefore, they can speak about the details as they both wish and desire. If Sarina doesn’t want to say anything, that’s fine. If she does, then that’s fine. Let her make the decisions to control her life. Erik, while you were right in your words for him, you were wrong in your words for Sarina about Chase. You may not agree based on what you know, but that doesn’t damn well mean that you throw those words out there in their face. It’s up to her to decide and her alone as it’s her life. If she wants your opinion, she’ll ask. Got it, boys?” Both of them shake their heads yes as Kyle smiles.

“It’s really strange seeing you as the mature one here,” Ricky comments as Kyle lets out a small chuckle. He had to admit it felt odd, especially considering how at odds him and Ricky had been over the years.

“Fatherhood seems to have a good effect on me. Well, that and running a race team.” Ricky smiles as he sits back down in his chair alongside Chase, glancing at the youngster.

“You could say this one had the same positive effect on me, too.”

“Glad you all have made up and agreed that sometimes you all need to shut up about things,” Chase starts, catching everyone’s attention as the room had turned sweet for a moment. While Chase wanted to keep the positive vibe and turn it into his comments for Sarina, there was another pressing matter. He didn’t like secrets in reference to the man who tried to kill him just hours ago. “However, Christopher’s words did catch my attention. Sarina, what was he referencing?”

“You deserve to know firsthand having gone through what you did, and you’ll probably find out anyway from the cops,” Sarina starts calmly, trying to keep her voice as steady as possible. “Immediately after his arrest, my brother pulled the psychiatric card of apologies and such – as I expected. With a past on his proper record, they quickly submitted him for an evaluation. Needless to say, it came back in a positive lig-”

“Because it’s true or he’s a good actor?” Ricky cuts her off, catching a stare from Chase and Kyle both. So much for staying out of their lives.

“It’s the truth – trust me. I’ve seen plenty of evidence and know it’s not something that he wants to do, Ricky. Whether you believe that or not, it’s up to you but that’s my word for you.” Ricky shook his head, understanding. He wanted to believe her, as she had been a great gal to date. However, he couldn’t admit being skeptical following her lies to Chase. “Upon that, they submit you for a CAT scan so therefore they can check out brain activity as part of your initial admission – something they had previously forgone doing. However, it turns out that it was the right decision. My brother has a brain tumor in the frontal lobe part of his brain.”

“Seriously?” Chase asks and Sarina shakes her head yes. “So everything came about due to a misdiagnosis for years?” Sarina shakes her head yes once again. Chase felt his guard dropping immediately, feeling bad that Sarina and her family had gone through that due to the lack of care given. On top of everything else they’d dealt with, it didn’t seem fair that this was the case.

“How does that explain what he di-” Ricky questions, still skeptical.

“The frontal lobe, per the doctor, is what controls your movements, intelligence, reasoning, behavior, memory, decision making, judgment – everything that you saw going wrong,” Kyle answers, having overheard the doctor and getting tired of Ricky’s interruptions. He wanted to see Chase and Sarina make some headway. “With how it was pressing against the brain, it was causing a split personality disorder –where he’d be sweet and kind to Sarina one minute, yet turn and want to kill someone the next.”

“So what happens now?” Chase asks, feeling his worry and concern growing with further explanations. Perhaps his comments to Ricky earlier about wanting to forgive and more forward were closer to reality than he thought then. After all, how he could blame Chris when he had this going on? How could he blame Sarina for her fear in not knowing anything?

“He’s currently in surgery right now. Sarina wanted to come see you while she waited as a distraction, if you will. It gave her something else to think about. Being a Grade 2 tumor, though, they think they will be able to safely do the surgery and he will be able to heal accordingly over the next three to four months, slowly relearning everything.” Chase shakes his head, understanding. He knew that’d probably mean that Sarina would want to help him, given how he was her only family left and deserved forgiveness despite the harm caused due to it not being purposeful. He wondered if he should go for the golden apology now so she could have someone to lean on, or to wait and let things play out as he had originally intended.

“Well, I do hope it goes smoothly and he is able to heal accordingly, despite the feelings I may have,” Ricky states as Sarina simply gives the crew chief a quick nod of the head.

“Thank you Ricky,” she states as she glances at Kyle, getting a nod, before looking back towards the group. “It’s also why I am breaking the terms of my contract with Kyle Busch Motorsports. I want to be there for my brother fully, and I don’t feel I can do that while racing. Chase Ricky, I know you hit terminate when we had the fight, but I want to ask for the same from you.” Chase could only nod his head and accept. Truthfully, his mind felt in overdrive with the new information.

“I totally understand as family comes first,” he let out, pushing his own personal feelings aside for now. “I wish him the best in his recovery, and hopefully it works out for you both.”

“Thank you. I hope you’re able to heal up fast.” He smiles as he glances towards Ricky.

“I have a decent caretaker so I should be okay.” She then had to chuckle a little, knowing the dig thrown in there. Perhaps there was a future for them.

“I’d like to stay and chat longer, but I want to be there for when he gets out. Thank you for hearing me out, and…..” Her voice trails off as she wanted to say See you later, but didn’t know whether that would truly happen, based on Chase’s anger previously. Chase caught the apprehension, and didn’t want to leave things on a sour note – again. it was why he knew he had to spit it out.

“See you later, Sarina. We’ll talk about things when the time is right.” She smiles and shakes her head accordingly, before heading out of the room, followed by the musketeers in tow.

“Are you okay?” Ricky asks once the group was out of earshot. Chase could only let out a sigh as he lies back against the pillow again.

“I got a lot to process and think about now, Ricky,” he states and Ricky could only shake his head in agreement.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 55: Pain

Chase lets out a sigh, glad that pain killers were starting to finally work their way into his system as he glanced around the small hospital room. So much for trying to win that night as instead, he laid in a hospital bed with thoughts of the past couple hours ringing through his mind.

After feeling the push against his back which sent him tumbling down the steps, the security guards were able to grab and hold back Chris, putting him into handcuffs, before taking him away. They then helped Chase up, before giving him a direct ride to the local hospital with Ricky and crew in toe.

Immediately upon arrival, it seemed like he got a tour of the emergency department. He went for a CAT scan due to worries over hitting his head despite not being knocked out. He went down to the x-ray room for numerous different views of body parts. They then took him back down the same familiar hallway, past the x-ray room, to a room for an ultrasound as they wanted to see the inflammation around his left knee.

Considering he had taken a significant tumble down the steps, he wasn’t that bad off.

The CAT scan had come back clean, showing no signs of a concussion which had him pleased. He wasn’t about to miss Daytona, after all.

His left knee was swollen, but it was as a result of bruising and a good amount of inflammation; rest and keeping it up would slowly heal the pain he was experiencing.

He had bruises down his entire left side, having twisted slightly upon falling. His wrist was the worst, seeing a big purple and blue mark forming from taking the blunt of the impact. He knew there were more down his leg as that had followed, hence the swollen knee.

The worst, though, was his ribs. He hated the thought of having to go through this again for the second straight year, but once again he had a broken a couple ribs. Before the doctor went into the protocol about healing and racing, Chase immediately cut him off, stating that he had gone through it exactly a year ago. It just meant that Daytona would be a pain once again.

Once they had gone through his injuries, they had told him that he had to stay 24 hours for observation and they’d give him pain killers accordingly. It was at that point Ricky had left the room to make a series of phone calls, knowing the protocol list that had been given to him previously when they were racing every week – just in case.

As Chase shifted slightly in the bed to try and get more comfortable, he watched Ricky return to the room, handing him a drink with a smile.

“One Chocolate milkshake – extra whip cream and drizzle on to the top, for you,” Ricky states as Chase smiles. “That’s what I was expecting. It worked while you were younger, so thought I’d try again.”

“Thanks,” Chase replies as he takes a sip while Ricky sits in the chair beside the bed. “All phone calls made?” Ricky shakes his head yes, remembering the list well.

“I started off with your parents. They were beyond worried – ready to fly out to California immediately, though in detailing injuries it seemed to calm them somewhat. Cindy said for me to tell you that you should call her later when you’re feeling up to it.” Chase shakes his head, accepting. That was no surprise.

“I’m surprised that she didn’t demand to speak to me imme-”

“She was actually going to try your cell, even Bill stated that, but I told them that it’d gotten smashed in the altercation. So she said that I better let you steal my phone to speak with her.” Chase lets out a sigh.

“That’s one thing that’ll never change – the way she feels about me.” Ricky shakes his head yes, agreeing, having known the family for years.

“I then called Rick to let him know the situation. He wants me to let you know that he’s glad that you’re relatively okay, and hopes to see you soon. I called your PR rep and she said she was drawing up a statement before questions began to go insane. Needless to say, you guys can chit chat before Dayt-”

“It’s going to be the same as it was last year. I don’t have to talk about it if I don’t want to, but be warned that there could be questions and we will deflect as quickly as we can.” Ricky shakes his head yes, remembering a version of that speech before.

“I then called a couple of your close buddies that I had phone numbers for, and passed along word. They’re going to pass along to others, each saying that they’re glad you’re okay and hope to see you soon. One of Kyle’s crew members called me and said that Sarina was wondering, so I told them the details, too. I hope that’s okay.” Chase lets out a sigh and shakes his head yes. While he didn’t want to think about her right now – for many reasons, but figured it’d be fine with her knowing.

“She’d find out anyway some other way so it doesn’t matter. By the way, how’d things go tonight?” Ricky takes out his phone, loading the Speed51.com update feed.

“Derek Thorn won the pole, led all the laps and won the race. Surprise, surprise.” Chase laughs as he knew the comment was coming. With Kern County being Derek’s home track and the speed he was known for, it didn’t catch anyone off-guard. “Donnie Wilson got second, followed by Kyle edging out Erik for third. Sarina didn’t end up running – probably at the police station with her brother, so they got Christopher to drive and he finished 10th.” Chase shakes his head, accepting. No surprises with the finishing order, and he couldn’t say the Sarina news surprised him either. “By the way, have you thought about Sarina at all?”

“Somewhat, actually.” Chase didn’t want to admit it as he couldn’t promise himself that all the thoughts were positive. However, there were a couple realizations that he made in the past couple hours. “Since meeting her brother, I have to believe that perhaps I was a little too harsh on her for lying. I mean, you wouldn’t believe this guy or some of the things that he said.”

“Really?” Chase shakes his head yes.

“Something along the lines that makes me believe he had something to do with his mother’s death, and it being okay if they take him away for seeing me. Something like he knew he’d be caught but ‘they’ll just take me to the hospital and try to fix me, failing like they have every other time’.” Ricky looks on in shock as he was surprised by those words. “Heck, he even admitted being crazy – but yet told me that he may be crazy, but not stupid.”

“The definition of a psychopath is how I describe this meeting.” Chase shakes his head in agreement as he lets out a sigh.

“As angry as I am at him Ricky and as much as I wish he’d pay for everything that he’s done in the past year, I want to see him get the proper help that he needs. I mean, if it’s not his fault for other reasons, I’d feel bad for being angry. Does that make me strange?” Ricky smiles and shakes his head no.

“That just makes you sweet, kind, and compassionate – the awesome kid that I’ve always loved. Don’t feel bad for one minute about this.” Chase shakes his head, accepting, feeling a little better after hearing Ricky’s reasoning. “So with that said, what are you going to do about Sarina?”

“I think, once things calm down a little, I am going to meet up with her and talk things out. I am going to tell her what I’ve told you in understanding things, explain why I did go off like I did – and hope that perhaps she’ll accept that. I just hope it’s not too late.” Ricky had caught the stares and glances between the pair throughout the day, and knew the answer already.

“She still loves you a lot and having grown up around her brother, I’m sure she’ll understand. It’s going to work out.” Chase then lays his head back against the pillow as he lets out a sigh.

“It’d be better if you could get me out of here tonight.” Ricky laughs as he wished that was possible, too, not wanting to have to spend the night in California. However, being the only primary person there with Chase, he had no other choice.

“Trust me – I would if I could. You’d think they’d make these chairs more comfy.” Chase then snatches one of the pillows out from underneath his head, chucking it at Ricky using his good, right hand. “Hey!”

“Stop complaining, or else I can make your visit here worthwhile.” Ricky then looks on surprised as Chase simply smiles with a little laugh.

The pair were set to joke around some more, though their attention was caught when they heard some voices in the hallway, somewhat arguing and even sounding familiar.

“Are you sure about this?”  “I’m positive.”  “What if it’s too soon?” “You know, you remember what he said and how upset you were right?”  “I want to do this?”

Ricky and Chase then glance at each other, surprise written on their faces as they began to match faces with the voices, before glancing towards the doorway to see the familiar group standing there.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 54: The Showdown

“I never thought I’d see you in a Late Model this soon,” Ricky Turner comments after picking up Chase from the airport. “I mean, I thought Sarina would at least have a couple more years.”

“Guess that’s what happens when you trust the wrong girl,” Chase states as he relaxes back in the seat. “Did you put my seat in?” Ricky shakes his head yes. “Thanks.”

“Everything is ready to go for you when we get to the track. Considering you got in lat-”

“I didn’t know I was drivi-”

“Hey, I’m not mad – just stating the truth. Anyways, you get one practice before qualifying and the main event. Winter Showdown schedule is up on the dash.” Chase then takes the piece of paper off of the dash, giving it a once over as they pull into the track. “I put the set-up that you wanted Sarina to try that day since it worked for you, but she changed slightly to make work for her. I figure it’s a good starting point.”

“Sounds fine by me.” Ricky then parks in the parking lot before the pair get out. As they headed towards the pits, Ricky kept glancing over at the man that he had known his entire life, having not seen him this down ever, no matter what had happened – even when Ricky screwed him over at the Snowball Derby.

“Are you sure you’re okay to drive this weekend?” Chase then stops as they reach the trailers and glances over at Ricky.

“My mind is in warp speed – battling between missing her, and knowing that she put my life in danger time and time again by lying. I keep thinking of the reasons why I love her, but yet feel the sting of betrayal. I find myself in times wondering if I was too hard on her, given everything in her life – but yet remind myself of how much it hurts in what she did. But sure, I’m okay to drive today.” Chase then goes to continue walking when Ricky grabs his arm.

“Chase, we don’t have to do this. I can tell the guys to pack up and we can turn back and head home. They’ll understand. Don’t feel like you’ve been forced.” Chase knew that was a possibility, but he didn’t want to do that. It’d result in the team asking too many questions in which he didn’t want to answer. For now, they all just thought Sarina was sick. He hadn’t convinced himself to let Ricky say that they had broken up.

“I’ll be fine once I get in the car.”

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

Following the lone practice session, Ricky couldn’t help but smile as he glanced at the scoreboard. Sure, they weren’t the quickest car at the track – but they were closer than he thought they’d be, ranked seventh at the end of the session. A couple adjustments, and perhaps they could make something work in the 200 laps.

“Not so bad for a guy who hasn’t stepped behind the wheel of one of these cars in a year and a half,” Ricky comments after their discussion in the trailer.

“I told you I’d be fine once I got in the car,” Chase replies with a smile. “Thank you for dealing with me and my attitude this wee-”

“Chase, I understand what’s going on. I’m here for you – as I’ve always been. You know that you can come to me for anything, right?” Chase shakes his head yes as he grabs a bottle of Gatorade out of the cooler.

“I’m going to go watch the modified time trials from the top of the grandstands. Maybe I can figure out the line a little more here.” Ricky shakes his head in agreement as he watches his driver head off down through the pits.

Chase made his way down through the pits, feeling a small sting as he walked by the Kyle Busch Motorsports group. He saw the eye glance that he got from the group – Christopher Bell, Erik Jones and Kyle Busch – in regards to what happened. After he had told Sarina that she wasn’t racing, she obviously had spoken to Kyle because now she was racing a third entry for his team, instead of Christopher driving.

He had seen her earlier standing by the No. 18 that she was going to be driving, eyes glancing down to his pit. He had immediately looked away, unable to face her after everything that had happened. He knew as soon as he caught those eyes, he may let his guard down and welcome her back in instantly. While it seemed like a good idea, he just wasn’t 100% sure yet and didn’t want to take a chance.

After crossing the track, he climbed to the top of the grandstand, taking a seat on one of the benches. He watched as a couple fans made their way up, quickly signing a couple autographs and taking some photos, before watching them head off. His eyes then focused on the track as he watched the first modified come out.

One by one, he watched each of the 40 modifieds take to the oval, watching the line that they chose to run. While most of them stuck to the bottom in the corners, there were a couple different approaches to how they chose to enter the corner. He watched the lap that they put down, followed by seeing where they ended up on the scoring tower to see if it worked. He found himself mentally focused on taking notes for when he’d go to make his two laps later on that evening, that he hadn’t realized someone was standing just inches away from him.

With the last modified taking to the track, he slowly stood up, set to make his way down back down to the steps so he could cross back over to lay down his time.

“Why’d you break her heart?” He hears, glancing up from his phone to face the source of the voice. He expected it to be one of the Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers or crew members, or perhaps one of their fellow competitors. However, he instead felt his blood turn cold immediately. Taking a deep breath, he had to think of a careful approach, reminding himself of the psychological comment that Sarina made.

“I didn’t break her heart, Chris,” he states clearly, hoping that he hadn’t heard details.

“Then why did she run out of your house crying?” Chase cursed himself that he had let Sarina leave in that state of mind. However, he found his blood turn even colder in knowing that Chris had been watching them.

“We had a misunderstanding about something.” He then runs a couple different scenarios through his mind, settling on a story. “We both wanted to run this weekend’s race. I finally told her that I was taking it = no ifs, ands, or buts. However, it looks like it worked out as she’s driving for Kyle.”

“I’m glad that Kyle treated my sister nicely – something that you totally forgot about. But hey, you’re right – it worked out. Now I don’t need to worry about you taking all of her time anymore.” Chase shook his head, accepting. He remembered hearing jealousy being part of the motive, even if deranged, and it was coming out now in their discussion.

“I guess you’re right. Well, I wish I could stay and talk but I need to go. My team is expecting me.” His phone then begins to ring and he glances at it quickly, seeing it is Ricky. “See what I mean?” He goes to hit talk with the finger closest, though feels a hand hit his and knock the phone flying. Taking a deep breath, his fear became pegged in knowing the situation he was in – especially being 20 steps off the ground.

“I didn’t say that I forgave you, nor am I happy about you breaking her heart. Nobody breaks her heart and gets away with it. Just ask mommy, who moved her away from her and took her away from our friends.” Chase had heard that Victoria was shot by some random gang member. However, it wasn’t a random as originally believed.

“I understand how you’re upset and such. But tell you what – I have a solution. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll take you to see Chelsy and her team? Then once the racing is done tonight, we can meet back up and talk about what happened.” It was worth a shot as there weren’t many other options right now for Chase.

“I may be a little crazy, but I’m not stupid. I know that there are guards that would have me arrested, thanks to you.” Chase knew that was the ultimate plan and was surprised that Chris had caught on. However, he could still play the game.

“I’ll tell them that I don’t want to press charges, that I understand what you were doing, and want to help you. Once I say that, they won’t do anything. Can we please agree?” He expected to hear a yes, but instead was met with a smile – hoping that it meant that he’d get what he wanted.

“Sneaking in here, I knew that I’d get caught. But that’s okay – they’ll just take me to the hospital and try to fix me, failing like they have every other time. So I figured I’d make your trip out here memorable.”

In an instant, Chase knew that he was trouble – so he pushed Chris back slightly, enough to make him stumble but not fall down the 20 steps – before taking off down them himself. He thought he was going to reach the bottom, and home free, and he thought he was going to be able to get help –he had attracted the attention of security.

Though as he reached the 15th step of 20, he felt a shove, sending him flying forward, forcing him to land on the ground, face dug into the dirt below as a pain shot up his body.

So much for starting this season on a solid note.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 53: “Get Out!”

Sarina slowly walked into the kitchen, stopping in the doorway as she glanced to see Chase leaning back against the counter. She could tell by his stance that he wasn’t happy, and felt her heart break in the fact that he hadn’t looked up to acknowledge her entrance.

“Chase, I just want to say sorry once again,” she starts. “I feel so bad. I was so afraid and worried, and I didn’t want anything to happen. I don’t know what I was thinking, and trust me – I should’ve said something. I’m sorry. I hope you’re able to forgive me.” She then paused, waiting for a response, though heard nothing in return as she took a deep breath. “I’m going to go back to the living room and give Ricky a call. He wants to talk about set-ups for the Winter Sho-”

“You’re not going,” he cuts her off as he looks up from the ground. “Once I find some composure and develop a plan that I can get through my head, I am going to call Ricky and call it off.” Her jaw then drops shocked.

“Are you kidding me?” Chase shakes his head no. “Chase, I said I was sorr-”

“It doesn’t excuse what you did, Sarina.” She then lets out a sigh as she shakes her head. This was the exact thing that she was scared of.

“What happened to keeping personal and business separate?” Chase crosses his arms with a shrug of the shoulders.

“What happened to be truthful with each other? You lied me, Sarina!” She knew she couldn’t get out of that fact and felt her heart break in each time he mentioned those words. However, there had to be a way to find an understanding.

“I know that I lied, and I know we had the commitment to each other. Again, I apologize. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I don’t know what else to say.” Chase then smiled as he grabbed his phone off of the counter.

“Then don’t say anything because we’re done. End of discussion. Besides, I only have one more thing to say to you. Thank you for not recognizing the danger that we were in. Thank you for contributing to the fact that I’ve risked my life twice for you. Thank you for the injuries that I had to go through. Thank you for almost having my whole team hurt because of a team plane sabotage. Thank you for everything. That’s just what I wanted to see out of a relationship.” He then heads her way, set to walk by, though she stands in his way. “Sarin-”

“You’re frustrated, and you’re angry. You don’t mean what you’re saying. Instead, the rationale side of you understands my fear and why I did what I did. You may not be able to immediately forgive and accept it, however the part of me that loves me will not allow this to tear us apart. Instead, we should be able to work on things moving forward, ways for me to not repeat my mistakes.” Chase then shakes his head.

“I don’t think there’s any way to come back from a lie and danger threat toget-”

“You said that you would do an-”

“That was before you failed to trust me! That was before you lied, Sarina! I agreed to do anything for you, to love completely – as long as you did the same for me. You can’t love me totally if you stick a lie in my face. Heck, when we were in the hospital, I stood up for you in front of my parents. I told them over and over that you could be trusted, it wasn’t your fault, nothing to worry about – but yet there you stood with a lie in not speaking of what happened or the photo.” She then lets her guard down a little that she held over him leaving the room, knowing how much that probably ate at him. She knew what it was like to be close with her parents, and now she’d cause an issue for him and his parents.

“Chase, I feel terrible for that – honestly. I hate that I put you through that in front of your parents, and I feel so bad. However, the things that you said to defend me meant the world to me and showed me just how much you love me and cared abo-”

“Then why didn’t you say anything about the original photo when Kendall sho-”

“I didn’t recogni-”

“He doesn’t look a whole lot different than the last photo that you saw. Come on, Sarina! Stop telling lies for once.” She then looks at him surprised.

“I sat and confessed everything of my life to you one night, and yet you accuse me of continuing to lie?” He then shrugs his shoulders.

“I call them like I see them. When it comes to Harry – sorry Chris, there’s been lie after lie. Besides, you never mentioned him originally in those long nights in how that was part of your family’s problems and why you father got shot. You also never mentioned the discussi-”

“That was something between me and him – personal.” Chase just laughs as she shakes his head in disbelief. He couldn’t believe this was happening.

“You told me directly earlier with Kendall that he wasn’t happy that you wouldn’t return to him. You told me directly that he was jealous. You told me directly that contributed to the fear around the incident. However, you still failed to mention it in the hospital. You failed to mention it in the days following. You failed to mention it after the lives of the crew members were threatened. You failed to mention it when they decided to close the file. And because you failed to mention it, he got a second shot at me. But oh no, let’s just keep it quiet because it’s personal.”

“Chase, listen to yourself. Do you really mean what you’re saying?” He then looks straight into her eyes.

“You’re going to ask me that right now, Sarina? You’ve put my life on the line twice because of a lie, but yet I’m supposed to let it go. I’m just supposed to not worry about someone trying to kill me because they’re jealous. I’m not supposed to worry because Chris may have some psychological issues that you admitted. Of course I mean what I am saying!” She then crosses her arms.

“So what happens now? We’re not going to the Winter Showdown. Am I suspended? Fired? I at least deserve a professional explanation.” Chase shook his head as he thought about her words. They were standing there discussing their safety and a threat to have them both killed, but yet twice in the discussion they had mentioned racing. It was another thing that his father had warned him about. Be careful she’s not accepting your offer just so you can help her in the racing world were his words. What if that was the only case here? But yet here she was, a ride landed with Kyle Busch Motorsports because of him, all in the middle of a bunch of lies.

“Right – let’s just bring up racing and the Winter Showdown when we’re having a discussion that pertains to my safety and someone trying to kill me. That seems logic-”

“Chase, I didn’t mean anyth-”

“You have your dream opportunity with Kyle Busch Motorsports so you don’t need me anymore. Your contract with Chase Elliott Motorsports for the season is terminated due to failing to disclose important information and be truthful. Secondly, since you can’t be truthful or loyal, I have one more thing to say to you – Get out!” Her jaw drops as her eyes widen in total of shock of his words.

“Seriously?” He shakes his head yes. He then walks by her, opening the front door and standing by it as he looks back at her. “Can I at least go pack some clothes?”

“I’m waiting.” She then hurries up the stairs, stuffing some stuff in a suitcase before returning down the stairs. She then grabs her purse and cell phone off the couch before walking up to him. “Go!”

“You’re making a big mista-”

“Goodbye Sarina.” She then heads out of the door as he slams it shut as hard as he can behind her.

Once it is closed, he leans his head back against the door letting out a sigh. A couple tears – mixed feelings of breaking her heart and the fear burning inside – slide down his cheeks as he stays there for the next hour.

After calming himself down, he called Ricky and explained that Sarina wouldn’t be racing that weekend, going over the details briefly about what happened. Ricky fully understood, accepting, despite knowing he’d miss his driver and wondering if Chase was too harsh.

The pair then agreed that they’d still go to the Winter Showdown, whether with Chase driving or someone else – but certainly not Sarina.

Short Track Lovin – Chapter 48: Speedfest 2017

I partially hate moving so much forward in the storyline, but it’s the only comfortable spot that I felt with this story.

 

Chase crosses his arms as he glances at the stop watch with each passing lap, seeing the times that she’s laying down. There weren’t the best times, but they were consistent and that’s what he wanted to see for the long run.

It was crazy to think this time a year ago the pair was just starting to grow closer and enter the beginning stages of a relationship. Now entering the second year together, the pair was close as ever. They shared kisses, didn’t let anyone faze them, and had found the balance they wanted. He pushed the boundaries with her as quickly as she wanted, but yet she didn’t cross into the personal boundaries that he didn’t want to enter. They also found the perfect balance in racing each of their own schedules, while spending time together.

While he had a successful season track for his rookie year, you could say her late model season was even more successful. She managed to pick up nine different wins across the country, including the Snowball Derby a month earlier. He had to smile as he thought about the excitement on her face in being able to outrace some of the best to win that race.

Now the pair were set to start their second year of race-dating as you may call it. She was still driving for his late model team, set to kick off the year with Speedfest that weekend in his backyard of Cordele. At the same time, she was set to take the next step of her racing career.

During the off-season, she got an offer from Kyle Busch Motorsports to drive for them full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. While she was apprehensive on accepting at first, it was an offer that she couldn’t refuse. Kyle obviously had one of the best teams in the garage, and he was known for giving the best advice to young drivers to advance their careers. Thus far spending time at the shop, she had to admit it was a good decision. That was only verified even further when she put down some of the quickest laps of the Martinsville Speedway rookie test at the beginning of January.

Though while everything seemed perfect, there were still some wrinkles to deal with.

The plane incident from exactly a year ago still bothered Chase a couple times a week. The actual accident didn’t bother him, but the fact that Harry Butler was never caught. The police chased leads throughout the year, but yet couldn’t ever locate the man known for the attack. Kendall Taylor assumed that Harry abandoned the country when he heard that they were on to him, and now was long gone without a trace. She also had to unfortunately close the file and stop searching, which frustrated Chase even more.

He tried to act like it didn’t bother him, but that was far from the case. He couldn’t help but think that Harry would pop up at some point down the road. It was why he made sure to always triple check the plane before flying. It was always he was looking for his shoulder and worried of people following him. It was also why there was a baseball bat hidden under the bed at the house and the motorcoach.

“Think we’re going to win?” Ricky Turner’s voice breaks his concentration as he looks over at the crew chief with a smile. He then walks away from his spot in the turn to head back towards the pits.

“She’s fast as usual, no doubt,” Chase starts as he glances back at his notes from taking stop watch times. “But there’s a couple whom are quicker than she is, and I have a feeling it’s not going to be no cake walk. We still need to make a couple adjustments and get the car working a touch better if we want to win.” Ricky had to smile – it was always fun working for a perfectionist.

“I’ve got this – I promise.” Ricky then heads off ahead of Chase as Chase walks up to the car slowly. He takes the window net down, looking in the car as he watches Sarina take off her helmet and glance at him.

“You look pretty good out there, but there still needs to be some work done. Ricky says he’s got it covered, though.” She smiles as she knew that Ricky and Chase wouldn’t let her down. It was why she had some apprehension about working with Tim Richmond. He knew that Richmond’s resume was steep, having spent many years winning races with Timothy Peters, but it didn’t mean she was a little nervous about chemistry.

“That’s the way we practiced at the Snowball and what happened there?” She asks with a smile as Chase simply smiles in return. “I still can’t believe I won the Snowball Derby, and outdrove John Hunter Nemechek like I did to do it.”

“I still can’t believe you gave him the bump and run.” She then laughs as it was certainly a move for the highlight reel.

“Be careful or next time you race me I will give you one.” He then laughs as he pats her shoulder.

“Focus on doing well for Kyle this year and we’ll see what happens.” He then walks away to see what Ricky is up to, allowing her to get out of the car and relax a bit.

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

Chase stands on pit road as he watches her climb from the late model, handing her a bottle of water.

“Too tight all day,” she comments as she leans back against the car, taking a sip from the bottle of water. “I needed that drive off to catch him and I just couldn’t get it. That’s why he was able to beat me.” Chase shook his head, having watched that himself.

“Your decision to try the high side and compensate was a good attempt,” he offers from his perspective. “It almost worked, but he was just a little too strong. Harrison and those guys have that car working well.” She shakes her head in agreement as she glances towards victory lane, watching the group celebrate.

“I hate to say it but I’m not upset about losing to him, either. He’s a good kid and deserves it. It’s nice to see him get his first big late model win.” Chase then looks at her surprised, as he was used to hearing frustrated disappointment out of her.

“Now I bet you’re just saying that because he’s your new teammate this year.” She then laughs as she focuses her eyes back on Chase.

“He’s going to be a good teammate, you have to admit that.” He then shakes his head in agreement. “Sorry I couldn’t keep the winning tradition at your track.”

“I’m not upset. You had a good run, all four fenders are on the car, and we’re standing here with smiles.” He then pulls her close to him, wrapping his arms around her. “I have no complaints whatsoever. Everything is perfect right now and nothing could change that.” He then kisses her forehead, before letting her go so she could do post-race interviews and photos.