Fontana II: Bill Lester qualifying report

BILL LESTER SUFFERS SETBACK IN CALIFORNIA After going "2 for 2" African-American driver will miss the NASCAR Sony HD 500 at California Speedway -- still focused on securing a Nextel Cup ride in 2007 Fontana, California, (September 2, 2006) -...

BILL LESTER SUFFERS SETBACK IN CALIFORNIA

After going "2 for 2" African-American driver will miss the NASCAR Sony HD 500 at California Speedway -- still focused on securing a Nextel Cup ride in 2007

Fontana, California, (September 2, 2006) - Bill Lester, who became the first black driver to compete in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race in 20 years when he qualified for the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, just missed making it a '3 for 3" batting average at this weekends Sony HD 500 at California Speedway. In June, Lester qualified for the 3M Performance 400 at Michigan Int'l Speedway, where he went on to post a lead-lap finish, the only lead-lap result by an African-American driver since the late Wendell Scott in 1963.

Although Lester is expecting to make at least one more Nextel Cup start this season, his plans for 2007 are not settled, and the driver admits to anxiety over his racing outlook for next year. "It would certainly be great to have a program for 2007 finalized at this point, but that is simply not the case," said Lester. "We have been very fortunate so far this year with Waste Management's sponsorship and Bill Davis Racing's support in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races, and in our NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program with BDR and Toyota, but we are still actively pursuing the right combination that will allow me to compete in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2007, and at the moment it is still up in the air."

"Having a problem in qualifying at California Speedway was an enormous disappointment, particularly since all the guys at Bill Davis Racing have put so much effort into my program. I may be on a limited schedule, but the BDR effort is absolutely full-time, and for that I am very appreciative. One of the challenges of running a limited schedule is lack of track time and a steep learning curve every time I get into the car. We knew we were making our best calculation on the qualifying setup, and it was a bit too loose to stick when I attempted to get on the throttle coming off of turn four. As close as these Nextel Cup fields are, you cannot get conservative or you will not have the speed to qualify. We are talking fractions of a second, and you have to run as hard as you can. I knew I had to go for it ... but the car came around and at that point I was just thinking that I better focus on not hitting anything!"

Asked to provide observations on his efforts so far, and the impact his program has had on diversity in NASCAR, Lester commented, "When I qualified 19th for the race in Atlanta earlier this year, it was a watershed event for NASCAR, and one that was obviously amplified due to the media's focus on the sports diversity efforts over the past few years. And yet, while I may have run a couple of races, you can't say that there are any African-American or female or other minority drivers competing full-time in Nextel Cup. Soon, Juan Pablo Montoya will be coming from Formula One, and the Hispanic and South American fans will have a face of their own to root for. There is no doubt that many new fans will be cheering for him at the track, and I'd like to think that an entirely new audience and fan base would follow my career as well. It would be great for NASCAR and it would be great for each and every sponsor -- not just mine - if that were the case. I was overwhelmed by the fan support I received out here in California. I may not be here just to talk about diversity, but the fact is that many new fans will appear when someone like me is racing week in and week out. There may be younger minority drivers in the development pipeline somewhere, but I am here now and I'd like to stay for awhile. At this point in time, to really consider the process a success, I need to be able to secure the support to race at the Nextel Cup level on a permanent basis."

While no official comment has been released by Bill Davis Racing, Waste Management (Lester's current Nextel Cup sponsor) or Championship Group (the company who developed Lester's NNC program with BDR), it is expected that Lester will attempt at least one additional NNC start this season, at a to-be-determined venue.

-credit: bdr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Bill Davis Racing