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Lester gets learning experience at Atlanta


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


He was the first black driver to compete in 20 years.
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) -- Bill Lester was proud of his accomplishment, though a little embarrassed by all the attention.
"I'm looking forward to when it's about racing instead of race," he said.
Lester became the first black driver to compete in NASCAR's top series since Willy T. Ribbs in 1986, finishing six laps off the pace in 38th place Monday at the Golden Corral 500, won by Kasey Kahne.
The 45-year-old Lester, a regular in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series since 2002, accomplished one of his stated goals, avoiding a crash and racing to the end of the 500-mile race, postponed Sunday because of rain.
"It was a very significant learning experience for me," Lester said. "It was fun to be out there with them. This is just the beginning and we have two more [Nextel Cup] races to go.
"I got a late start in my career and I'm trying to catch up as quick as I can."
Lester said he hopes he earned some respect from the other Cup drivers.
"I was able to bring it home in one piece and able to build up my database of knowledge," he said. "There were some opportunities for me to take some chances and I could have gotten in the way. But I'm not trying to do that."
Has two more Cup races
Lester, scheduled to drive two more Cup races this year -- at Michigan International Speedway in June and California Speedway in September -- said, "I'm eager. I can't hardly wait until June."
Asked who he was representing on the racetrack, the smile Lester had been wearing since the end of the race disappeared.
"I represented myself," he said. "I'm doing this for myself and for my family.
"I'm glad so many people, especially from the minority community, have taken note of what it is I'm doing, but I drive for Bill Lester. At the end of the day, if it wasn't for my self belief, I wouldn't be here."
The top Cup rookie in 2004, Kahne slumped last year. But he's started this season with four strong performances, including an 11th-place run at Daytona and two fourth-place finishes before earning the second victory of his career.
His first win came last May in Richmond and was the highlight of a difficult sophomore season.
Dodge wins at Atlanta
It was the first victory at Atlanta for a Dodge in 29 years, since Richard Petty won here in 1977. It was also only the fourth win by a Charger since the model was introduced at the start of the 2005 season.
Mark Martin made a late run at Kahne, driving his Ford alongside and nosing ahead of Kahne's No. 9 Charger 12 laps from the end of the 325-lap event. But Martin had to back off when his car began to slide and he was not able to challenge the leader again.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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