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Bryan Clauson remembered at Chili Bowl

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) Reminders of the late Bryan Clauson were everywhere at the Chili Bowl Nationals.

There was Justin Grant, driving the Clauson-Marshall No. 39 car to victory in the Friday night feature – the same number Clauson himself drove so often in his career.

There were the decals on the Clauson-Marshall team’s cars which read: “Driven 2 Save Lives,” a nod to the team’s Race to Save Lives campaign to increase the number of organ and tissue donors.

There’s also the list of past winners – Clauson won the Chili Bowl’s title race in 2014. He also won the Friday night feature last year, months before he died of injuries from a crash in Kansas.

Then there was Bryan’s father, Clauson-Marshall co-owner Tim Clauson, working and mingling with the people who have helped him through the toughest of times.

“This sport and the teams and the family and the fans, promoters – everybody in the sport – has just wrapped their arms around our whole family,” Tim Clauson said.

Tim Clauson, a former driver, never considered stepping away from the racing business. He said he and his son spoke about the possibility that something bad could happen, so he knew what to do.

“He said, `Look, Dad. You were a racer long before I was,”‘ Tim Clauson said. “I’m one now. This is what we do, and we’re going to race on. God forbid, something would happen to you, we’re going to race on, and God forbid, something happened to me, I would want you to race on.”‘

Grant did just that for the Clauson-Marshall team. Tim Clauson said watching Grant win on Friday night was meaningful because of his similarities to Bryan.

“Justin’s a kid that came up the way the old-time racers used to come up,” Tim Clauson said. “Bryan’s kind of a throwback racer. So to get the win with him one year later was pretty special.”

The drivers recalled Bryan Clauson’s rare driving ability. He was one of the most successful dirt-track racers of all time, with 112 United States Auto Club race victories, and he was chasing the all-time wins mark.

“He was the guy,” Rico Abreu, who won the Chili Bowl’s title race in 2015 and 2016, said. “He was the guy to beat at every race. He was the most diverse driver in the country. It’s such a sad loss for the sport of racing in general.”

Bryan Clauson drove sprint cars for Tony Stewart’s team, and they shared a mutual respect.

“He’s one of the best drivers I ever had,” Stewart said. “He never complained about anything. And even when he was upset about something, he could still tell you what he wanted to tell you and do it with a smile on his face. His personality was infectious to everybody. He just was a great kid, and somebody that got taken from us way too early.”

Bryan Clauson posthumously was named winner of the Thomas J. Schmeh Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Sport, and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame has received $1 million in pledges to eventually build a suite tower to be named for him. It’s such honors that help Tim Clauson learn more about the effect his son had on the racing community.

“I think he’d be a little embarrassed by all that,” Tim Clauson said. “I also think he’d be very proud, as we are.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.