Bryan Clauson was so much more than Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s buddy.
A buddy is a guy you shoot hoops with, play cards with. Clauson took Stenhouse into his home in North Carolina and helped shape him into a Sprint Cup driver.
Then Clauson died Aug. 7 of injuries suffered in a crash at the Belleville (Kan.) Midget Nationals. Clauson left behind grieving parents and a fiancée. So despite the crazy schedule with a handful of races before the Chase field is set, Stenhouse did what friends do: He tended for those in need.
Stenhouse wore a helmet with a design honoring Clauson’s memory at Bristol Motor Speedway on his way to second-place finish Sunday. More importantly, he hosted Clauson’s loved ones in Bristol and played a key role in a celebration-of-life ceremony for his friend and mentor Wednesday before traveling to Michigan for this weekend’s race.
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“I think it’s going to be cool starting around 1 p.m. Just going to have friends and family tell stories that we had with Bryan through the years,” Stenhouse said Sunday of the service for his friend.
“They’re actually going to have a race at Kokomo, so hot laps will start at 6:30, and then a friend of ours who was going to play Bryan and Lauren’s wedding is actually going to play after the race for all the fans and friends.”
If this sounds sad, it actually seemed inspiring. Stenhouse has had an uneven career at the Sprint Cup level, and Sunday in Bristol proved to be his best moment in the sport. Maybe he was lifted by Clauson’s fiancee, who was more concerned with caring for others than herself, but Stenhouse was clearly focused at Bristol.
“I really wanted to park in Victory Lane for Bryan and his family, but we just came up one spot short,” said Stenhouse, who finished behind Kevin Harvick.
A first-time victory is perhaps the toughest step for a Sprint Cup driver. Joey Logano said you take that any way you can; a weather event, a fuel-mileage gamble or a daring pass.
The first challenge is placing yourself in position to win. The tougher one is what to do next.
Could Stenhouse have passed the far more experienced Harvick for a victory had a late caution presented itself?
“You know, I don’t really know. I’d definitely give it all I got if we had a restart there,” Stenhouse said. “If you don’t give it all you got, and move them out of the way or whatever you need to do, you don’t really want it bad enough.”
Stenhouse understands about calculated risk and not tearing up cars unnecessarily. But he also understands how he and his peers are wired.
“You’ve got to put it up next to the wall, and you’ve got to gas it up,” Stenhouse said. “I mean, my right arm was almost going numb I was so tensed up making sure I hit my marks every single lap there at the end.”
On the Grid
Pure Michigan 400
1 p.m., Sunday, Brooklyn, Mich.
Track: Michigan International Speedway, a 2-mile, asphalt oval
Distance: 200 laps/400 miles
TV: Race, NBC Sports Network (Friday: Practice, 11 a.m., Qualifying 4:15 p.m., NBCSN; Saturday: Practice, 7:30 a.m., and 10:30 a.m., CNBC)
Road America 150: Xfinity Series, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., 2 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN
Careers For Veterans 200: Truck Series, Michigan International Speedway, noon, Saturday, FS1
Firestone 600: IndyCar Series, Texas Motor Speedway, (Resumption of June race), 8:15 p.m., Saturday
Belgian Grand Prix: Formula One, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 6:30 a.m., Sunday, NBCSN