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Rain postpones Cup race, Lester's debut until today


ATLANTA --It was like old times at Atlanta Motor Speedway yesterday. The wet weather was reminiscent of the early days of the track, then known officially as Atlanta International Raceway, but often referred to as Atlanta International Rainway.

Eight of the first 10 races at the Atlanta track were rain-delayed or postponed, putting the track in such great financial distress that it barely survived.

Another rain delay went into the books yesterday. Three hours after the scheduled start of the Golden Corral 500, NASCAR postponed the race until 11 a.m. today. With rain expected to continue, officials are looking at the possibility of a rare Tuesday race, which is workable because next week's race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway won't present a logistical travel challenge.

The last time a Nextel Cup race was postponed a day by rain was in October 2003 - at Atlanta.

Yesterday, track workers using jet dryers nearly had the 1.54-mile track ready to go by 1:30 p.m., when the 500 was set to start. But the rain intensified after a pre-race prayer and the singing of the national anthem.

The delay put off the Nextel Cup debut of Bill Lester, who is poised to become the first African-American driver since 1986 to race in NASCAR's elite division.

"I'm relaxed," Lester said. "There is no reason to be nervous. The fact of the matter is that I'm just thankful that I'm getting the opportunity. I'm fortunate because, if it was going to rain, it hit [yesterday] and it didn't hit Friday."

If it had rained Friday, Lester wouldn't have been allowed to qualify, and his team did not have the points needed to be assured of a starting spot.

"I am going to take everything into consideration and perspective and realize it's out of my hands," Lester said. "I'll just wait until when it's race time."

It was much the same for the rest of the NASCAR drivers. Most looked at the delay as just another day at the track.

"My first year when stuff like this happened - it might mess things up," Casey Mears told reporters as his No. 42 Dodge sat on pit road. "But these days, whenever the race starts, it starts. It doesn't really change our outlook on the event."

But if the delay lasts past today, "it gets kind of wearing," he said.

If there ever were a fair-weather sport, it's NASCAR. Cars have slick tires designed for maximum grip on the track. But the lack of tread becomes a hazard on a wet track.

Series officials experimented with grooved rain tires on road courses in the late 1990s, but tire manufacturers said at the time that the nature of oval-track racing makes it impractical to run rain tires on tracks like Atlanta.

They say rainwater tends to pool on the track and cars tend to run too close, and often side by side, compared with road courses, where the cars race single-file and the tracks have runoff areas for drivers who skid out of control.

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