Lester Makes History

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HAMPTON, Ga. - Bill Lester became the first African-American driver to qualify for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race in 20 years, while Kasey Kahne took the pole for Sunday’s Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Lester’s No. 23 Waste Management Dodge was the fastest among the cars that needed to qualify on time with the 19th fastest lap of 190.502 mph. Lester joins Charlie Scott, Wendell Scott, George Wiltshire, Randy Bethea and Willy T. Ribbs as the only African-Americans to accomplish this feat with Ribbs being the last in 1986.

"I'm so excited, I'm relieved, I'm enthused, I can't wait for Sunday's race," said Lester, who is from Atlanta. "My wife knew my heart and soul was in racing and she supported me 110 percent."

Lester, who also will compete in Friday night's truck race in Atlanta, plans a full assault on the NEXTEL Cup Series next year.

"It's overwhelming," said Lester. "This is the culmination of a very long dream that I've had to race at the top level of motorsports. I'm hoping to think that this is the beginning, that it will open a few more eyes and get the attention of corporate America."

Kahne went out early in qualifying and posted a fast lap of 192.553 mph denying Ryan Newman of his seventh consecutive pole at AMS.

"I wasn't sure if it could hold on," said Kahne. "I thought I left just a little bit out there in Turn 3, but it held on and we're excited to win a pole at Atlanta."

Kahne, who also led Friday's practice session, is shooting for his second career Cup win on Sunday.

"I've been looking forward to qualifying all week and this is cool," Kahne said. "We have a little bit of momentum going for us and to beat Ryan Newman here for the first time in six races is really cool."

Newman came close to tying Buddy Baker Atlanta pole record mark with the second fastest lap at 192.540 mph driving the 2004 Dodge body style.

"I wish we could have got that seventh pole, but now we’ll just see if we can take the car to victory," said Newman, who missed the pole by two one-thousandths of a second. "We’ve always been pretty good in practice and qualifying. It’s the racing part where we struggle a little bit."

Both Kahne and Newman were the only two to break the 192 mph barrier.

Jeff Burton continued his strong start to the season by qualifying his No. 31 Cingular Chevrolet third.

Burton was not only happy with his lap, but also for Lester and hopes the day will come when a black driver making a race won't be front-page news.

"I look forward to the day we're not having to about it," said Burton. "That's when we know we're where we need to be, when it's not a story. But we've got to be here first."

Bobby Labonte qualified fourth securing his first top-five start since taking over the reigns of the No. 43 Dodge for Petty Enterprises.

"Hopefully we can rebound here," said Labonte. "I’m not going to say we’re going to end up in Victory Lane, but we’d like to. I hope you continue to see consistency throughout the season. That’s what we need to do. That would be a big thing.”

J.J. Yeley posted his second top-10 qualifying effort of the season in an unfamiliar paint scheme sponsored by Husqvarna.

Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Casey Mears completed the top-10 qualifiers.

Carl Edwards, who is shooting for his third consecutive win at AMS, will start 18th.

Sunday's Golden Corral 500 is scheduled to take the green flag at 1:30 p.m. (ET) live on FOX.



        

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