Friday, August 10 – Michigan International Speedway
Alan walks into the Cup garage area, set to go find Josh and go over final set-up notes before the first practice of the day. However, he pauses when he notices Chase sitting in the corner by himself.
“Chase?” He questions out loud, slowly making his way over, kneeling down to his driver’s level. “Hey, is everything alright?”
“Do you ever feel like every time you take four steps forward you get knocked back two steps?” Chase asks, not even sharing a gaze with the crew chief yet as Alan sits down beside him.
“That’s better than one step forward, two steps backward as you’ve said before. I expected to enter the garage area with big smiles after last week. What would have you down so fast?” Alan could only reason that it had to deal with Sarina, considering that she wasn’t anywhere to be found.
“Alison.” Alan almost wanted to roll his eyes as he thought they were truthfully moving forward, but that obviously wasn’t true. “They spoke about the possibility of redemption and freedo-”
“She just got locked away not even a full month ago. We’re not even close to that happening, and they said there were steps that had to be taken. I thought you were fine with that decision, anyway.” Chase lets out a sigh, almost about to admit an immediate regret with that comment. Truthfully, it seemed that every situation with her was full of mistake and regrets. Taking a deep breath, he couldn’t let that trace his mind. It was not his fault no matter how it appeared were the words he had to tell himself repeatedly.
“What if that is sooner than we believed?” Alan now looks over with full shock on his face. “I got a note from the court house with an upda-”
“Why are they even bothering to keep you in the loop, to begin with? I thought moving forward involved no more reminders.” Chase wished that was the case as he would’ve preferred to not gotten the message.
“They feel I deserve a right to know due to being her primary target through all of that.” Alan actually couldn’t argue with that, understanding the dangers and safety here.
“There’s no way that they’d lock her up for a month and then relea-”
“They’ve found what was going on in her mind to cause her thoughts to be what they were and go insane, or appear of that nature. Bipolar Disorder is what they’ve diagnosed her with. The belief is once they figure out the medication regime to keep things under control, she will be able to function like anybody else and therefore no longer needing to be kept in the criminally insane.” Alan almost wanted to scream, but knew that wouldn’t help his driver’s state of mind right now.
“And because of that possibility, your mind is warped into 20,000 different theories. Let’s not forget this – it could take months to figure out the right course of action. It could even take years. They also have to make sure it true and tested before even giving her a possibility of release due to the nature of the crimes. I think you’re panicking too early.” Chase knew that, but that didn’t answer everything fully.
“But eventually, my thoughts will be reali-”
“That’s why there’s the review board. She could be told to serve jail time, or parole. Given the nature and depth of what she did to you, Chase, and what you’ve gone through because of that, they will not give her much leeway. You have to trust the justice system.” Chase almost wanted to laugh.
“Everybody has told me that since the beginning of the year when this started, but yet it took six months to get locked up. Would you understand if I didn’t feel fully convinced?” Alan nods his head, accepting.
“That’s why there’s restraining orde-”
“A piece of paper won’t stop someone from killing you.” Alan takes a calm deep breath, not even letting the thought enter his mind. He saw enough bullets, anyway.
“That’s why you can hire personal security, bodyguards, and other options.” Alan then places a hand on his leg. “Trust me when I say this to you – we will not let you go through that again with her. One time is enough and we’re not taking chances at repeating it, even if I had to pull the trigger myself on her. You can trust that you’re safe with us, always.” Chase finally looks over towards the crew chief.
“So am I crazy for sitting here right now having this discussion with you?” Alan shakes his head no.
“You’re understandably paranoid because of what happened. Obviously you’re going to fear her, and fear the possibility of going back there again. Don’t ever underestimate fear or pain. That’s what made this worse for you to begin with. My only suggestion is I know you thought your therapy was coming to a close, but I’d take a session or two and openly discuss what you just told me. It’s obvious that you haven’t uncovered everything yet.” Alan then stands up, brushing his own pants off as he glances over at the team. “The guys are looking a little lost without my direction – imagine that – so I better go get them in line. Are we good?”
“Yeah, of course.” Chase then slowly stands up himself. “Thanks, by the way.” Alan gives him one final glance.
“Anytime you need to talk, don’t be afraid to ask…” Alan then walks away and heads over to Josh as he was originally planning to do from the beginning.
Alan looks up at the speed chart, making a note they ended the session sitting 14th on the charts. It wasn’t exactly where they wanted to be, but it wasn’t the worse situation either. it was obvious they were missing on the intermediate tracks and top-15 was better than outside of that as progress was slowly being made.
“Happy driver or not?” He questions as Chase walks over to join the brain trust of the team.
“It’s free off the corner to the point that I feel I can’t hold it,” he answers as he looks up at the data. “I don’t know if I’d say totally loose, but I just can’t get the bite that I need.”
“More bite to turn give you more speed?” Chase thinks it over as he looks over at Alan.
“I think, but I don’t want to go too far either.” Alan glances back at his notes as he flips through the pages of adjustments tried, along with spring notes. “Give something a little snug, and I may be able to get you a good lap later this afternoon.”
“I’m just worried if I go this direction, that I’ll screw you even worse there. I want to fix the middle as you’re right, but you still need good entry.” Alan looks back at the data. “The key to Michigan is your run through the middle and off due to the long straightaways. So if I lose a bit on entry, can you handle that for the other side?” Chase nods his head, accepting.
“If I have to accept one over the other, I’d prefer to go that way. But why can’t I be like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and have both?” Alan chuckles as he looks back at his notes.
“I wish it was that easy, kid. Would you like to take over my job?” Chase chuckles, shaking his head no.
“I still say we should just get Sarina to steal notes from Kyle for us,” Josh interrupts the pair as Chase just rolls his eyes. “She loves you a lot that she’d prob-”
“You obviously don’t know her that well to say that,” Chase cuts him off. “She also believes in integrity and competition and all those things, just like I do. I could never feel right about that, and neither would she.” Josh lets out a sigh as he glances back at Alan.
“I tried….” Alan shakes his head as he grabs the clipboard.
“Focus on your job, not your crazy antics,” he instructs before walking away. Maybe a conference with the other Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs would lead to some answers.
Sarina climbs out of the truck, smile adorning her face as she looks over at Rudy Fugle. After topping the first truck practice, she had it backed it up with the sixth-fastest time in the second session.
“We’re fast once again,” she says as she walks over, grabbing a bottle of Gatorade out of the cooler. “Now can we actually put it all together tomorrow and win?”
“I’m trying princess,” Rudy offers as he looks over at her. “I told Kyle that the pit crew needs to pick up the slack, and he said he’d have a chat with the powers that be. Now we just need to communicate, and work on the handling accordingly. Can we communicate properly?” She nods her head.
“I feel confident in our communication. I know how to describe what she’s doing, as long as you give her what she needs.” Rudy then looks over surprised.
“You always name a car after a girl’s name for her curv-”
“I’ve seen the movie Gone in 60 Seconds so I know how that goes. But even ladies believe in that?” Sarina nods her head, yes.
“I used to always name my late models after favorite females that I aspired to be like one day. Badass girls for that matter. Why do you think Pink had a pink splitter?” Rudy just smiles as he remembered the familiar paint scheme, while crew chiefing an event for Erik. “Now, I’ve gotten away from that with my trucks, but I still talk to them like their little girls.”
“Maybe we should refer to them as teenagers given the attitude some weeks.” She chuckles a little in response.
“Could you imagine a teenager with my attitude, but yet Chase’s sweetness?” Rudy was surprised by the comment, given everything going on, but just had to shake his head at the thought.
“Totally stubborn set on their ways, but yet sweet enough to get away with it.” She nodded her head in agreement, letting out a sigh afterwards.
“….and to think that Chase had a thought of us having two children one day. I almost got myself wrapped up in that vision, too.” Rudy wraps an arm around her.
“There’s options, and knowing the both of you, just like you’ve conquered everything else, you’ll figure this one out, too. Don’t ever limit your dreams as you’ll make them all come true.” She smiles as she glances up at Rudy. “For now, let’s focus on getting ourselves a win this weekend.”
“That sounds fine by me.”
“It’s just wasn’t quite turning like I was hoping it would,” Chase tells the media after qualifying. “But, we had a hard time here in the spring race, too. I’m not real sure why. Hopefully we can get it worked out tomorrow and move forward because that was not good.”
He then walks back over to where Alan was sitting, taking a spot across from him on the pit wall. They hadn’t done anythi9ng special in the session, ultimately ending up 21st on the chart.
“That adjustment obviously didn’t work,” Chase summarizes as Alan just nods his head back in response.
“I don’t know what to say,” the crew chief replies. “I tried going one way but that didn’t work during practice, and now the other way shows that we’re slower in qualifying. I’m literally running out of ideas.” Chase was actually surprised to hear this confession.
“So then what are we supposed to do?” Alan lets out a sigh as he thinks it over.
“I could change springs and shocks, but that’s like going back to the beginning. However, if nothing is working, do I have a choice?” Chase shakes his head no.
“We’ve got two hours tomorrow. That gives us a lot of time to explore. If you want to go a different direction during the first practice, then I say let’s go for it. Then we’ll compare and choose what we really want to go with for second practice.” Alan nods his head, accepting.
“We’ve got to do something…..”
Saturday, August 11 – Michigan International Speedway
“Are we happier?” Alan asks following the first of two practices on Saturday.
“It’s better than yesterday,” Chase answers as Alan nods his head. The speed chart showed that with them ranked 11th after the first session. Chase then makes his way out of the garage stall, having heard that NBC wanted to do an interview. He was surprised, though, when it was Dale Jr. standing there to do it. “Is it okay to admit that this is a little awkward or strange?” Dale glances at him.
“As awkward as you and Erin?” Dale questions in response, which sees all emotion fade from Chase immediately.
“Excuse me?” Chase asks as Dale keeps his eyes locked on Chase.
“What did I tell you about when you have a good thing, man? Don’t screw that shit up! I thought you were over Eri-”
“There’s no feelings there for Erin. There wasn’t ever any fee-”
“Drunken actions are sober thoughts, man. I was also there at the banquet then.” Chase shakes his head.
“You’re reading into this too much. There are no feelings. Hence why I’ve already talked it over with both Erin and Sarina. Hence why I’m still getting married to Sarina. I was inviting you to the wedding, but I don’t know now. Really?” Dale was actually caught off-guard on the retracted wedding invite.
“I thought I was planning your bachelor party with Jimmie still?” Chase laughs and shakes his head no immediately.
“I’ve heard enough stories from Jimm-”
“We aren’t going to do anything that extreme.” Chase just continues to shakes his head.
“I want to actually be at my wedding, Dale. I don’t need a Hangover movie written after me.” Dale keeps his eyes locked on him.
“I wouldn’t do that to you – as long as you can guarantee me that you’re in this for the right reasons.” Chase then looks over at his former boss and teammate.
“There’s not one shadow of a doubt in my mind that I am.” Dale nods his head, accepting.
“Then I will make sure that you are there on your wedding day to say those words.” Dale then clears his throats as the camera man gives them a 10 second motion. “Ready?” Chase nods his head, as he takes a deep breath, focused back on his practice thoughts.
Sarina gives Rudy a high-five, pleased with their qualifying performance. It wasn’t the pole, but certainly she could make something happen from third later that afternoon.
“We’ve got the speed – let’s be smart,” Rudy reminds her as she nods her head in agreement. “It’s all about closing the deal.”
“I’m ready to build that momentum, put solid runs together, and get myself ready for those playoffs,” she offers and Rudy nods his head in agreement.
“You can do whatever you want for the first half of the season. All that matters, though, is how you perform those last seven. Let’s focus on that momentum.” She smiles as she leans back against the pit wall.
“I’m 100% focused on that.” Rudy could tell as he takes a quick glance around.
“So where’s the fiancé anyway?” She was caught off-guard by the question, but saw where it was coming from.
“His car has been handling like shit most of the weekend so he’s been focused on getting better. He got the win last week, but doesn’t want to be a fluke. The pressure is there to keep that momentum going, but they’ve struggled here. So they’re trying to figure out what they need and that takes times.” Rudy could relate to that, thanks to long nights spent going over notes.
“Am I still going to have a friend on the pit box during the race?” She smiles, nodding her head. No matter how busy they got on race weekends, they always watched each other’s races and always spent the night together to rehash over the events from the day. “I’d be worried if he didn’t show up.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rudy shrugs his shoulders. “Rudy….”
“It’d be out of character and when you start doing things like that, you know something is going on. I’m hoping you’re both done with drama for the rest of the year.” That was her wish in response, too.
“I hope so, Rudy. I need a break. I think the win and knowing Alison is locked away will bring that calmness. Now we just need to get the job done.” Rudy places a hand on her shoulder.
“That’s not a problem for me, ever.” He then walks away as she just smiles back in response.