BUSCH: Atlanta Motor Speedway news

BOBBY HAMILTON STEPS OUT OF TRUCK FOR CANCER TREATMENT: Bobby Hamilton announced Friday that he will step out of his No. 18 Fastenal Dodge immediately after tonight's John Deere 200 to begin radiation and chemotherapy for head and neck cancer. His...

BOBBY HAMILTON STEPS OUT OF TRUCK FOR CANCER TREATMENT: Bobby Hamilton announced Friday that he will step out of his No. 18 Fastenal Dodge immediately after tonight's John Deere 200 to begin radiation and chemotherapy for head and neck cancer. His son, Bobby Hamilton Jr., will take over until Hamilton can resume driving duties.

"I will be back; I'm not quitting. I'm not that weak," Hamilton said. "It's just time for me to get out and start treatments and kick this thing."

Hamilton was diagnosed last month after the swelling from wisdom tooth surgery did not subside.

"A wisdom tooth saved my life," Hamilton said. "This thing's called head and neck cancer, but I don't have anything wrong with my head. (Ken) Schrader said he doubted that."

Hamilton made the announcement with his usual candor and bluntness, showing little emotion and remaining upbeat about his upcoming battle.

"I don't want to be labeled as a cancer victim," Hamilton said. "I'm a survivor or a patient. I'm not a victim; I don't like the sound of that. They don't act like it's going to be that big a deal; my body's so healthy it's killing 75 percent of the cancer cells as soon as they can find it, is what they're telling me."

Hamilton will begin treatments immediately at Vanderbilt University.

"To come back home to race is exciting," Hamilton Jr. said. "But the way it turned out just sucks, to be blunt. It's not what we want to experience, but that's life."

A NEW KING IN NASCAR: Michael Waltrip Racing announced Friday that it will team with Burger King and NASCAR champion Bill Elliott for a five-race schedule this season. Elliott will pilot the No. 00 Burger King Chevrolet at Chicago, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, California and Homestead.

"We're eager to return to NASCAR," said Russ Klein, chief marketing officer for Burger King. "This is a great way to reenter the sport, and we're eager to expand our role. We want to be in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing long-term. We're just taking things one step at a time."

Waltrip said the team plans to expand to a full-time NEXTEL Cup venture next season, running Toyotas. Waltrip said sponsorship and driver plans for next year were still up in the air. But for now, he's thrilled to have a veteran like Elliott behind the wheel.

"You can't win a race sitting on the couch at home," Elliott said. "I've done the full season, I'm over that. But I like the position I'm in now. I'm able to stay in the sport but still hang with Chase and do some other things. It's my chance to give back a little to the sport that's given so much to me."

Burger King also announced donations to both the Speedway Children's Charities and the National Motorsports Press Association.

Waltrip quotes of the day:

(On fielding Chevrolets for his team despite driving Dodges himself)

"I'm like Switzerland, I can drive anything. Chevrolet is the car to beat. They've won two of the first three races. When we were planning this project, in order to lure Mr. Elliott, we wanted to get the best car he could drive. Right now that appears to be Chevrolet. I'll stay in a Dodge, I suppose, but I am going to be in a Toyota truck later this year, and I've got a call in to Ford."

(On the Burger King mascot, The King) "The King commands respect, even if he has on tights."

(On whether Bill Elliott figures into next year's plans to run a full-time NEXTEL Cup schedule) "We're trying him out. We'll see how he develops. It's a driver development deal."

BILL LESTER DRIVING INTO HISTORY: Atlanta resident Bill Lester will make history during tonight's Georgia Power Qualifying session, when he will be the first African-American in 20 years to attempt to qualify for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race. Lester will pilot the No. 23 Waste Management car, fielded by Bill Davis Racing, in his attempt for Sunday's Golden Corral 500. Lester will also race in tonight's John Deere 200 Craftsman Truck race for BDR.

"I love Atlanta Motor Speedway; I love tracks like this. I'm in my hometown, I feel very comfortable here, and the city has embraced me," Lester said during a press -conference Friday to announce his three-race NEXTEL Cup schedule with Waste Management, a program termed the "Drive Into History". "I have extremely high confidence going into tonight based on our test at Kentucky."

Lester said he also hopes his presence in NASCAR helps propel the sport's diversity program.

"I think I can be a catalyst for change," Lester said. "Every time I bring a friend to the race, the immediately become a fan. It blows them away. It's never something they think they would like. But as more people of color realize there are drivers out there, as they are exposed to it more, things will change. When they see me race on network TV, that's going to be the catalyst for change."

Lester said he didn't see the lack of diversity in NASCAR as a racial divide, but rather as a matter of exposure and opportunity.

"Most kids in the inner city don't have the opportunity to go to the race track," Lester said. "They're exposed to stick and ball sports, music. Once you have that exposure, you have to be able to participate, and then that's when the financial aspect comes in. If you're not born in the sport and not exposed to it at a young age ... I'm one of the anomalies."

NASCAR President Mike Helton also addressed the diversity issue, saying, "We're proud of our diversity efforts in NASCAR, and although we didn't think there were any barriers there, the perception was there. Our diversity program is an ongoing effort, not an overnight fix, but we're proud of our efforts."

URBAN YOUTH LEARN IN ATLANTA: Four students from Philadelphia's Urban Youth Racing School (UYRS) will get a little hands-on training during this weekend's John Deere 200 Craftsman Truck race. Danny Colon, Shawnna Stanton, Kristopher Fuller and Nkosi Harmon, all from Philadelphia, will team with four Craftsman Truck teams as they participate in this intense internship-type program designed to educate and train today's urban youths through exposure to the automotive and motorsports industry. The teams hosting a UYRS member are Circle Bar Racing, Darrell Waltrip Motorsports, Morgan-Dollar Motorsports and Red Horse Racing.

Rick Crawford's Circle Bar Racing team has paired with UYRS student Danny Colon, and Crawford joked that Colon couldn't stay long at a Friday afternoon press conference because he had a lot of work left to do on the Circle Bar No. 14 Ford truck.

"This program really helps the kids expand their knowledge of NASCAR," Crawford said. "It teaches them little by little about the sport, the tools, the officials, everything. And then when they come into the shop, these kids know how to act and what to do. Every major city in the U.S. ought to have something like the Urban Racing School. It gives these kids direction, something missing in a lot of households today."

-ams

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup , NASCAR XFINITY , NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bill Elliott , Bobby Hamilton , Darrell Waltrip , Michael Waltrip , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Rick Crawford , Bill Lester , Mike Helton
Teams Michael Waltrip Racing , Bill Davis Racing , Red Horse Racing