Bryan Clauson doesn’t get a lot of laps in Indycars.
Once a year, at the Indianapolis 500, is it.
Each time he’s started, he’s improved on the previous finish.
Sunday was no exception.
He not only improved on last year’s finish, he improved dramatically.
He even led the race.
Making his third Indy 500 start, and his second straight with Greenwood-based Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, Clauson started 28th and finished a career-best 22nd.
Driving the Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda, Clauson led three laps at the mid-point; turned 198 total laps; and finished the race running.
The 198 laps more than doubled the combined total of his first two Indy 500 starts (2012 and 2015).
For Clauson, a prolific midget and sprint car racer, driving in the historic 100th Indy 500 wasn’t just the chance of a lifetime, but a foundation for the future.
“No doubt this was great,” said Clauson, who left the Speedway immediately after to compete in a race in Kokomo.
“It’s really the first 500 we can go off for the future,” Clauson said. “We set out to do what we wanted, and that was finish.”
Clauson also did something he hoped to do but not necessarily set out to do: He led the race.
During a yellow caution, he led Laps 97, 98 and 99 — earning the distinction of being one of only 13 drivers to lead a lap in the 100th race.
“Pretty cool. You don’t know what it’s like until you actually do it,” Clauson said. “It was great, and hopefully for me there will be more of that in the future.”
Clauson’s first start was in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He finished 31st after mechanical failure.
His second start was last year. He finished 30th after a crash on Lap 61.
This year, despite qualifying one of the slowest cars in the field, he improved his position, finished the race — and became the first driver for Byrd’s Racing to ever lead a lap at the 500.
Byrd’s first entry was in 1985. Former champions Arie Luyendyk, Gordon Johncock and Buddy Lazier have driven Byrd-sponsored cars.
“That was our first laps ever led in the Indianapolis 500,” said Jonathan Byrd II, co-owner of the family owned team. “We could have led the hundredth lap.
“We were told they were going to go green, so we had to do our (pit) stop. But we could have led a couple three more laps.”
Above all, Byrd was happy with the final result.
“All in all, we wanted to finish, and we did, and brought it home in one piece and got 200 more laps in racing experience in race conditions for Bryan,” Byrd said. “(That) bodes well for our future.”
Clauson is nearing the halfway point of attempting to compete in 200 races this season. Dubbed, “The Chasing 200 Tour: Circular Insanity,” an effort that keeps him busy on short tracks but not in Indycars.
The Byrds plan to return to Indianapolis next year but would like to partner with a team that might create more chances for Clauson to drive in Verizon IndyCar series races.
“I want to get him some more oval experience in Indycars. That takes money, and we’ve got to do some more business deals,” Byrd said. “We’re doing those business deals, so you never know what’s going to happen. We definitely want to come back.
“We’ve got to work on which team. We loved being here with Dale Coyne. They were great to work with, and we’ll see what works and see what we can do.”
Regardless of which team partners with Byrd next season, Clauson got personal boost from this, the 100th running of the Indy 500.
“We had a clean day and were running well,” Clauson said. “The yellow kind of came out at a bad time, but overall it was good and satisfying to finish the race.”