NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) rookie John Blankenship made his first laps at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday. During the first scheduled practice, Blankenship hit the wall and the resulting damage forced the team to change to the backup car. The West Virginia native started the Great Clips 200 from the 39th position. Struggling to get a handle on the one-mile track, he spun three times in the 204-lap event but saved the car from any damage. By the checkered flag, Blankenship drove the No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet to a 25th-place finish in his third NNS start.
Following contact with the wall in first practice, Blankenship started the Great Clips 200 from the 39th position in the team’s backup car. By the first caution on lap three for the No. 41 spinning in turn four, he drove the No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet into the 32nd position. He drove into the 29th position by lap 21 but fell a lap down on lap 22. On lap 33, the No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet spun in turn two and brought out the caution. Crew Chief Brad Parrott called his driver down pit road for a four-tire pit stop, and Blankenship restarted in the 29th position on lap 38.
During the next green-flag run, Blankenship drove the No. 44 Chevrolet into 26th place by lap 56. On lap 70, the COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet spun again, this time in turn four. The NNS rookie told the crew that the car was just a little tight in turn two. Parrott called for a four-tire pit stop and air pressure adjustment. The No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet restarted in the 29th position, two laps down, on lap 75. Until the next caution on lap 91, Blankenship raced for the 29th position with Derrick Cope in the No. 73.
While under the yellow flag, Parrot called for a gas-only pit stop and trackbar adjustment. The No. 44 Chevrolet restarted in the 28th position, two laps down, on lap 95. Blankenship fell back to the 29th position and a third lap down by lap 115. On lap 121, the No. 41 spun in turn four and brought out the caution. Blankenship told the crew that the car was a little free in turn four but the last adjustment helped the handling in turns one and two. Parrott elected to take the wave around and get a lap back.
The No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet restarted in 27th place, two laps down, on lap 125. Blankenship raced into the 25th position before the sixth caution on lap 149 for another spin in turn four. Blankenship told Parrott that the car was tight in both corners later in the run, and Parrott called for a four-tire pit stop and no changes.
The field restarted on lap 154 with the No. 44 Chevrolet in the 26th position, three laps down. The No. 12 spun in turn two on lap 157, and NASCAR Officials called a caution. Blankenship restarted in the 26th position, three laps down, on lap 161.
On lap 179, the No. 44 Chevrolet spun in turn four and brought out the caution. Blankenship made his last pit stop for four-tires and restarted in the 27th position, three laps down, on lap 183. He drove into the 26th position by lap 186. On lap 192, the No. 41 spun in turn four and brought out the caution for three laps. Then, on lap 200, a three-car incident in turn three brought out the red flag for cleanup with the COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet in the 26th position, four laps down.
NASCAR lifted the red flag, and the field restarted on lap 203 for a green-white-checkered finish. Blankenship drove into the 25th position when the checkered flag dropped.
“Phoenix is really a fun track,” explained Blankenship. “I think as I get more experience here, it will become one of my favorite tracks. It is definitely a difficult track, but I had a lot of fun out there. Each week I get more and more track time and am feeling more comfortable in the racecar. I’m excited to head to Miami for our last race of the season.”
Blankenship will return to the NNS in the No. 44 COAL/Save Our Country Chevrolet at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for the season finale.