HAMPTON, Ga. -- Kasey Kahne showed early signs of being a championship contender by winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway yesterday while Bill Lester finished way back in becoming the first black driver to race in NASCAR's top series since Willy T. Ribbs 1986.
Lester accomplished one of his stated goals, staying out of trouble and racing to the end of the Golden Corral 500, which had been postponed Sunday because of rain. But it was not the kind of performance he hoped for, as he finished six laps off the pace in 38th.
''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."
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.
''Man, to win at Atlanta, one of my favorites racetracks, is so cool," said Kahne.
It was the first victory at Atlanta for a Dodge in 29 years, since Richard Petty won here in 1977.
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.
Kahne finished 1.929 seconds -- about 20 car lengths -- ahead of Martin.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, his best finish of the year. He was followed by Jeff Gordon, reigning series champion Tony Stewart and Paul Menard, making only his third Cup start.
With fewer than 20,000 of the estimated 80,000 spectators returning after sitting in the rain Sunday, the 325-lap race was run under a blanket of gray clouds with temperatures in the low 50s.