And here we have it at last, after all the political posturing and speculation, the meeting between President Barack Obama and eight of NASCAR's finest drivers.
Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer gathered with the president as a way of honoring both the sport and its reigning five-time champion.
Here's a transcript of his comments, via the White House. Alas, he didn't address Bowyer's contract situation, Kyle's problems with Kevin Harvick or Kenseth's snappy Twitter feed, but hey, you can't have everything:
It's great to welcome NASCAR back to Washington. It's great to have No. 48 parked outside. I was just telling these guys that I'm not allowed to drive much these days. Basically just my golf cart at Camp David, which is called Golf Cart One. That's true.
But I will say it's pretty tough to look at No. 48 and not want to jump in it and take a few laps, although Jimmie would not be happy with me if I did that.
Last time many of these drivers were here, Jimmie was celebrating his third straight championship. He's got a couple more titles under his belt now, but there's another big change in the Johnson house: He and Chandra are now parents of Genevieve Marie, who was born last July, so congratulations on that.
I told Jimmie you cannot beat (having) daughters, and I know Jimmie is pretty excited to be a daddy. He whipped out the iPhone with pictures on it the minute I asked him about it. I hear he is in charge of taking Genevieve Marie to music class and because of his unique work schedule, Jimmie is usually the only man in it. But that's a good sign of being a good dad. So Jimmie's got a lot to be proud of. And that's especially true when you think of what it means to win five championships in a row.
NASCAR is a sport where anything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point during the season — similar to being President. That's true even for the best drivers. And with so much extraordinary talent going bumper-to-bumper in every race, just making the Chase is hard enough — let alone winning the whole thing.
And that's why Jimmie is not just one of the best drivers of all time, he's up there with some of the great sports dynasties. If you think about it, only the Boston Celtics, the Yankees and the Canadiens have ever won more than four titles in a row. And now, Jimmie is breathing down the necks of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most NASCAR titles ever, which is not bad for the son of a machine operator and a school bus driver who still has plenty of seasons ahead of him.
Jimmie has made a very difficult and demanding sport look easy. But this year, the No. 48 team also showed its toughness. They entered the last race of the Chase trailing and ended up pulling off an extraordinary comeback. And if you ask Jimmie, he'll give credit to that team, led by owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus — who couldn't be here today.
We also need to give credit, though, to the other Chase drivers up here who want Jimmie to know that the second he makes a mistake, they're going to be ready to knock him out of Victory Lane.
I did observe that lately there's been some trash-talking in NASCAR. I thought I was watching WWF! But that's good. You know, you've got to have a little feistiness, and these guys are extraordinary competitors. And that's what makes this sport so exciting to watch. Everything can come down to just one race, one pit stop, one split-second decision.
What also makes NASCAR special is the difference it makes in the lives of so many people, especially our troops and their families. I personally thank all these guys for what they've been doing on behalf of military families who are obviously huge fans of NASCAR.
Last month, drivers and staff toured Walter Reed Hospital and served dinner to 400 wounded warriors and their loved ones. NASCAR has been a huge supporter of the Joining Forces program that Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden have set up to support military families. This morning, Jimmie made a special visit to the Pentagon to honor folks over there. And later this week, NASCAR will be honoring our military and first responders again at Richmond the night before the anniversary of 9/11.
So I want to congratulate Jimmie, I want to congratulate all the drivers who are on the stage for their extraordinary success and for the success of NASCAR and everything they do for our country. Good luck getting into this year's Chase, everybody. We will all be watching. Thank you very much.
The ceremony concluded with Johnson presenting the president with a pair of race-used gloves, which Obama pledged to use while driving a golf cart. Congrats to Johnson and to all of NASCAR. A presidential audience is a high honor indeed.