Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dedicates runner-up finish at Bristol to Bryan Clauson

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dedicated his second-place finish in Sunday’s Bass Pro Shops / NHRA Night Race at Bristol to the memory of his late friend, Bryan Clauson.

Stenhouse has been on an emotional roller coaster since Clauson’s Aug. 6 crash in a USAC Midget race at Belleville, Kansas. Clauson, 27, died the next day, and Stenhouse spent the NASCAR off week comforting Clauson’s family at the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa.

“It’s definitely been tough, but I think going to Knoxville and being with his family, being with his fiancée (Lauren) and being with friends that we all had a great time together, you know, talking about it, talking through things and talking about all the good things that Bryan did and his organ donation really helped a lot of us really feel comforted with what he was still doing after the fact,” Stenhouse said.

Clauson’s memorial service Thursday was “one of the toughest days that I think I had,” Stenhouse said. “But again, just being there and telling stories really I think helped us all get through it.  Lauren has been a rock getting everybody though. You would think it would be the other way around.  She’s really helped a lot of people.”

Lauren Stewart and her parents attended the race at Bristol.

“They came and just hung out all day on Saturday throughout the day around the motor home, and I was like, well, rain delays are good for some things,” Stenhouse said. “We all got to hang out together and spend some more time together, and that definitely has been helping us a lot the last couple weeks.”

In his interview above with NBC Sports, Stenhouse also talked about the significance of doing well and how he just didn’t have quite enough to catch race winner Kevin Harvick.

Stenhouse also talked about Clauson’s plan to compete in a total of 200 races – across a variety of racing platforms including sprint and midget cars, as well as having competed this year in the Indianapolis 500, earning a career-best finish.

“I know Bryan was watching and wanting us to win tonight, and we gave it all we had,” Stenhouse said. “He was trying to run 200 races. Somebody asked me, how do you feel coming to here and racing, and talking with Tim, Bryan’s dad, he was like, ‘Man, I feel like Bryan is probably mad at me right now because I’m not at home working on a midget to get it ready to go racing because Bryan, all he wanted to do was race.’  That’s what he was doing, and leading one of the biggest races of the year.

“If he had to choose a way to go out, I feel like that was the way he wanted.”