Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and his fellow 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contenders changed their attire – from standard fire suits to business suits – for their annual visit to the White House on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama honored Stewart for capturing his third Sprint Cup Series title and celebrating the other 11 drivers who qualified for NASCAR’s postseason last year. Speaking from the South Lawn, the President addressed the 12 drivers, honored quests and dignitaries in attendance in an approximate 4-minute speech. He thanked NASCAR CEO Brian France and NASCAR President Mike Helton for their leadership, NASCAR’s commitment and support of the military, singled out driver Jimmie Johnson’s unparalleled achievement of claiming five consecutive championships and 2011 Sprint Cup runner-up Carl Edwards’s sportsmanship in the aftermath of falling just short of winning the title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November, which was attended by First Lady Michelle Obama.
But, The President saved his best material in addressing Stewart, playing tribute to the 2011 champion’s heart, attitude and determination as last season’s regular season was coming to a close and Stewart on the postseason bubble. “Nobody saw it coming,” said President Obama. “We’ve all heard about athletes who say they’re going to do what it takes to win it all, but back in August with the season winding down, Tony predicted he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. In fact, he said if he did end up winning the championship, and this is a quote, ‘I’ll declare I’m a total bumbling idiot.’ But I think Tony’s hero, the great AJ Foyt, put it best when he said the reason Tony won is because ‘he drove the best race of his life, period.’”
Stewart’s day started early with a behind-the-scenes tour of the iconic 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue residence and a meet-and-greet with the President. The champion roamed the famous halls and stepped foot in rooms frequented by the first family, including the East Room, the Library and more before heading to the South Lawn, where he was joined by fellow drivers Johnson, Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch. The day ended with “Smoke” engaging in small talk with Obama by his No. 14 Chevrolet, which was prominently positioned off to the side of the podium.
WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 17: U.S. President Barack Obama (R), stands with NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart during an event on the South Lawn, April 17, 2012 at the White House in Washington, D.C. President Obama hosted the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart to honor his championship season. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)