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Ray Black Jr. making a name for himself

May 08, 2015, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com

Ray Black Jr. making a name for himself
Full-time rookie pleased with 2015 Truck Series performance

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Take a look at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings.

At the top, you see familiar names -- two-time defending champion Matt Crafton, Brad Keselowski Racing product Tyler Reddick, 18-year-old phenom Erik Jones, 2012 series champion James Buescher

But there's also another, lesser-known name -- Ray Black Jr.

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With just 11 NASCAR national series starts under his belt -- all of which have come in the Truck Series over the past two seasons -- many fans aren't familiar with the SS Green Light Racing driver.

"I'd say we’re doing a really good job with the team we have," Black said Thursday at Kansas Speedway. "We're growing a lot. This is our first full season with them and they're really respected in the series, and they've been around for a long while. (Team owner) Bobby Dotter is a good guy and he's taken us under his wing and showed us the ropes and I'm glad to be able to give him a good season so far."

With an average finish of 23.0 in seven starts scattered throughout last season behind the wheels of the Nos. 07 and 08 Chevrolets, Black struggled to find the stability necessary to make much noise. Shuffling through three different crew chiefs (Doug Weddle, Keith Wolfe and Jason Miller) will do that.

Now that he's secured a full season with the team and seems to have found a fit with Miller, the results are already showing.

Black came out of the gate firing with a fifth-place finish at Daytona and hasn't looked back.

"I like the bigger tracks because I like to go fast. (Daytona) played out very well," Black said "It's just all luck there. You just kind of ride and stay on the bottom and stay out of trouble, but I don't know. We got really lucky there with two big wrecks and somehow stayed out of both of them. I don't know how we did, but somebody was looking out for us.

"We ran good at Atlanta, we were in the top 15 and … had some problems with the truck and couldn't finish the race, which limited us to 25th place. Things like that, that's 10 spots right there and 10 points. We'd be doing a lot better if it wasn't for those circumstances, I'd say."

Ten extra points would've had him in sixth heading into Friday's Toyota Tundra 250, ahead of John Wes Townley and one point behind Buescher.

After Black recovered with a 13th-place finish at Martinsville, the series had more than a month of downtime before getting back on track. The driver -- who moonlights as a certified scuba instructor, once leaving racing for two years to focus on that -- spent that time diving in his private spring, surfing and road-tripping, but also thinking about how he'd approach Kansas.

A blown engine on Lap 110 sent Black to a 21st-place finish in the Toyota Tundra 250. That puts him ninth in the standings heading to Charlotte.

Black has developed a close, mentoring relationship with his spotter, Stevie Reeves, who also spots for Paul Menard in the Sprint Cup Series. The advice he's gotten from Reeves has proven invaluable thus far.

"(Stevie's) really helpful and he tells me what I'm doing wrong or if I need to change something or try something or whatever it is," Black said. "That's usually who I look to, to help me out. Just because they can tell you all day (what to do), but it's when you're out there on the track that I really see it and feel it the most.

"(The best advice he's given me) is just give and take. You've got to respect other drivers. They're long races. I've come up running 25-lappers and there's no give-and-take at those kind of things. These races are 200 laps-plus, so you've got to make sure you know who you're racing with because some of these drivers are different and some are more aggressive than others. Some are good to follow and some aren't. He's really smart on that edge and he looks out for me so I have to give him props."