Last year on Pocono race weekend, Ray Black Jr. was driving in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. This year, Black has taken a step up to the XFINITY Series, driving the No. 07 ScubaLife.com Chevrolet Camaro for SS Green Light Racing.
“We did a really good job as a team in the Truck Series last year with a lot of top-15 finishes,” Black said. “We were debating whether to run again in the Truck Series or step up to the XFINITY Series. We figured for the money we were putting in this year and the budget that we had, we could make the XFINITY Series leap, be somewhat competitive and build on that.”
After deciding to go to the next level, Black has been experiencing the normal vagaries associated with competing in a brand new series. He has, however, been progressing nicely, from 33rd place finishes in the first two races to his best finish of 17th at Dover.
Black, however, struggled in the most recent race at Charlotte, suffering an oil line issue which relegated him and his team to a 37th place finish.
“So far it’s been a roller coaster, Black said of his season to date. “We’ve had some good races and bad ones. Overall, we’ve learned a lot and had a lot of new cars. It’s on the right track and it’s been a good step up for right now.”
As he has moved up, Black acknowledges that there has been a lot of learning involved in that transition, both on the part of his team and on his own part.
“As far as my team is concerned, they have done a good job so far with the change,” Black said. “As a driver, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about these cars but there are a lot of things they do differently in the XFINITY Series, with more tires and different strategies. And you have a lot bigger teams in this Series.”
“I feel like I have a lot more to learn, but that makes it fun.”
Black has been taking it all in, especially when it comes to the differences between the trucks and XFINITY cars.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to drive these cars with the aero-dependency,” Black said. “The trucks are more mechanical and with the cars, you are almost driving sideways and that’s the fastest way to do it.”
“That’s been our biggest hill to climb and I’m definitely not where I should be there. But I’m getting closer.”
Black is also learning other lessons as he steps up the rungs of the NASCAR ladder, including handling the length race and the fact that some of the Cup drivers are also his competitors.
“The race is longer too so you have to pace yourself and make sure you are there at the end. I’ve always been good at that, so that is paying off for us,” Black said. “And then I’ve been learning how to race these other guys, especially the Cup guys.”
“That’s been interesting but you have to race whoever is on the track,” Black said. “But if you get Kyle Busch popping up in these races, the problem is that he laps us all so fast. Getting laps down in these races is the toughest part.”
“We’re just trying to get more speed so we can race competitively with the guys. We’ll have our chance.”
Black is also proud to have the chance to make history, with the XFINITY Series racing at Pocono for the first time ever.
“I think it’s pretty neat,” Black said. “I’ve been here twice in Trucks and these are great races. That front stretch is really long so if you get a good run there, you can make it five wide.”
“I’ve had some cool experiences here so I think XFINITY coming here is awesome. I think it’s neat and cool to be a part of it.”
While Black is having a cool experience at Pocono, he is also having some pretty cool experiences off the track. He and his father are currently constructing an international location for the Commercial Diving Academy in St. Kitts.
“We’ve built a bunch of docks and a marina,” Black said. “That’s the base of it right now. Slowly in a couple of years, we will have an entire center.”
“Last time I went down, we were building underwater platforms and surveying the area. We had to do some dredging and make it deeper. We also had to build jettys with rocks to tie the boats to. It is a lot of work right now and that’s what I like doing when I’m not on the track.”
“I love racing but you have to pay the bills too.”
Speaking of those bills, Black is hoping to pay some as he takes to the track tomorrow in the Pocono Green 250.
“I want a top-20 finish, at least,” Black said. “That’s a worst case scenario. A top-15 would be really great.”
“We need to get back on track and make sure that we don’t let the mechanical failure of last week turn our season upside down.”
“So, I’m going to get right back out there and continue stepping up,” Black said. “It’s been a good transition from Truck to XFINITY for me and I just hope to keep building on it here at Pocono.”