With helmets and paint scheme, Larson, Stenhouse honor Bryan Clauson

(Photo by Blaine Ohigashi/Getty Images)

Tonight’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway will have a special meaning for drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson.

The race will be the first Sprint Cup race for both since their close friend and fellow racer Bryan Clauson died Aug. 7 at 27 from injuries sustained in a crash at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Belleville, Kansas.

Stenhouse, who drives for Roush Fenway Racing, and Larson, driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, held a joint press conference Friday at Bristol. The two discussed their friendship with Clauson and the tributes they’d have for him this weekend.

One of them was the two pink racing helmets that sat in front of each driver during the press conference. Each was covered in the recognizable puzzle piece that serves as the symbol for Autism awareness. Larson and Stenhouse will use the helmets this weekend.

“Bryan, this design, I think was his favorite he had; he ran it this year some,” Larson said. “He won a lot of big races with some pink helmets.”

Stenhouse added: “Bryan was super-passionate about … the Autism Society. We do a big benefit the Monday night of Chili Bowl and talking with Tim, Bryan’s dad, Kyle and I were gonna give the family our helmets, but I think we’re gonna auction them off at that event on Monday night of Chili Bowl week.”

Clauson was in the middle of a campaign to compete in 200 races in a year when he passed away.

“He was a great person, awesome race car driver,” Larson said. “We have both finished second to him quite a bit. I hate to see him go, but we are going to do our part to support him.”

Another tribute to Clauson on Stenhouse’s part is the paint scheme he’ll use this weekend at Bristol.

His No. 17 Fastenal Ford will look similar to one of the cars Clauson drove in the Xfinity Series in 2008 when he was a Chip Ganassi Racing development driver.

“I moved to North Carolina and (Clauson) was already there,” Stenhouse said. “Even though he was younger, I kind of always looked at him as an older brother because he kind of did everything before I did. He let me move in with him and we had a lot of fun in North Carolina. He showed me the ropes of stock car racing and then, obviously, he was the best there was running sprint cars, so to be able to run his paint scheme, his family is super excited and we are too at our team.”

Stenhouse’s tributes included being asked to pace the Knoxville Nationals in Clauson’s sprint car on Aug. 10.

“To get back in his car and give it another trip around Knoxville, which he really loved being at Knoxville, there was not a dry eye in Knoxville when we took that car around,” Stenhouse said. “As Bryan always said we parked it in victory lane for him and it was super emotional.”