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Low dollars, high expectations for veteran driver Lester

The story of the Craftsman Truck Series season to date has been its 40-and-over crowd, which is piling up race wins and crowding the top of the points standings.

Bill Lester, 46, fits into that club in age only. But he's not giving up on dreams of being just as successful as the likes of Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday.

The fact of the matter is, I would be much more pleased if more minority-owned and/or minority-directed companies would get involved with the sport, but black corporate America has not been receptive to NASCAR.

Bill Lester

Returning to Kentucky this week helps spur such visions, as Lester has had tastes of success on the 1.5-mile oval. He finished in the top 15 in his first two starts there in 2002-03, and in 2005 won the pole for Bill Davis Racing. His 178.141-mph lap remains the track record.

Two weeks ago at Memphis, on a short track where he had not been strong in years past, he qualified fifth and finished 12th, one of five drivers who never fell out of the top 15 during the 200-lap event.

"That was obviously very gratifying, very satisfying. We need to work on that consistency, finally building a foundation we can build upon," said the Billy Ballew Motorsports driver, who sits 19th in points. "That chemistry they talk about is important. I'm optimistic and looking forward to Kentucky."

For Lester, it's not just a matter of building a foundation, but building the finances to keep the team rolling. In his first year driving the No. 15 for Ballew, his Chevrolet has carried several different sponsors, from a home builder to a shelving company to a pair of auto auction houses and, most recently, a company called Christian Debt Consolidation.

The latter won't be on Lester's ride at Kentucky, leading to some rumors that he wouldn't be running at all this week or even the rest of the season. Not so, he said. But the continued struggles to find money are real.

"We're always looking for support, it's not a secret," Lester said. "We're trying to put together enough that we are solid throughout the season. Our plan is to run the whole year -- we're trying to indicate [to sponsors] that there's an excellent opportunity to get in with us."

The only time a rise is detectable in Lester's soft-spoken voice is when the subject of sponsors comes up. As an African-American driver, he has courted countless minority-owned businesses. None has stepped up with the kind of significant sponsorship that would make a race team secure.

"It's been a disappointment," Lester said. "The fact of the matter is, I would be much more pleased if more minority-owned and/or minority-directed companies would get involved with the sport, but black corporate America has not been receptive to NASCAR.

"It's a very challenging set of circumstances. We have reached out to a vast number of companies; for some reason or other they haven't gotten into the mix yet. If I had a thin skin I would have given up a long time ago."

Instead, Lester has stuck around and will make his 140th truck start at Kentucky. ThorSport driver Matt Crafton gets plenty of attention for his career-long winless streak -- Kentucky will be his record 160th start without a victory -- but Lester isn't far behind.

And he has no plans to stop trying anytime soon.

"I really just enjoy being a racer -- very few things give me as much pleasure. It's hard to describe," Lester said. "We'll just see what the road gives me, how it unwinds. I have only so much control over what happens. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth and I'm not a second- or third-generation driver.

"I'm the type of person who has fought and kicked and scratched to do whatever. This is no different."

Green steps in for Fike

Kentucky native David Green will replace Aaron Fike in the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota at Saturday's Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky Speedway. Green, the 1994 Busch Series champion, last raced in the truck series in 1997.

Fike, 24, pleaded not guilty to drug charges in a Mason, Ohio, courtroom Tuesday morning. He and his fiancée are accused of having heroin and drug paraphernalia in their vehicle while at Kings Island amusement park Saturday.

"We are still investigating to get firsthand information on what happened with Aaron," Red Horse Racing owner Tom DeLoach said in a statement. "We don't expect to have any definitive answers on the events leading up to Aaron's arrest until later this week."

Fike is leading the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race and is eighth overall in points. He will be drug-tested by NASCAR and subject to suspension if he fails. Bill Davis Racing driver Tyler Walker was suspended indefinitely in May for failing a test.

Back in familiar territory

More than one-third of the Craftsman Truck schedule is run on 1.5-mile ovals, so this week's trip to Sparta, Ky., is a return to familiar ground. Not surprisingly, the top three in points all have wins already on such tracks this year, with Mike Skinner winning at Atlanta, Ron Hornaday at Charlotte and Todd Bodine at Texas.

Since 2000, only two series champions (Travis Kvapil in 2003 and Ted Musgrave in 2005) have failed to win on a 1.5-mile layout. But a Toyota has not won at Kentucky, one of five remaining sites on the schedule (that have hosted three or more races) where the manufacturer hasn't taken a checkered flag.

Hornaday won last year ahead of Rick Crawford and Brendan Gaughan.

Spare parts

Gaughan's Chevy will display the logo of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association at Kentucky in honor of his father's induction into its Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo. … Sounds hard to believe, but there are tracks where multitalented driver Ken Schrader has not run. One is Kentucky, and he'll cross that off the list Saturday in the Bobby Hamilton Racing Dodge. … Thirty-five trucks were on the preliminary entry list for this weekend, one short of a full field.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.