President Barack Obama welcomed NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and the 11 other Chase drivers from last season to the White House on Tuesday afternoon, saluting both Stewart's amazing Homestead victory and NASCAR's support of the military.
The following is a transcript of Obama's comments:
Full disclosure: I invited Tony here today because of what he did on the track, but I was also hoping he could give me some tips on the media, because he's got that quiet, reserved personality. I figured I could stay out of trouble if Tony gave me some advice on that.
It's good to see No. 14 on the South Lawn. Every year, I try to take a lap. Nobody lets me do it, but I'm still holding out hope that I'm going to be able to get behind the wheel.
A few years ago, Jimmie Johnson showed up, showed me how to start one of these things up, showed me how everything worked. It was impressive, but what was even more impressive is he got in and got out dressed like he is now, and he did not rip his suit – which took some skill.
I do want to acknowledge Jimmie, because even though his five-year streak is over, I think we can all acknowledge he is one of the all-time greats, and I know he is itching to take the title back. So congratulations, Jimmie, on all you've done.
But this was Tony's year. And Smoke gave us one of the most dramatic finishes we have ever seen. After barely making the Chase, Tony took off, winning an amazing four races in the postseason. Then came the final race in Miami, a must-win. Tony went all out.
Twice, he came from the back of the pack, passing 118 cars – sometimes three-wide. Tony said it felt like he passed half the state of Florida. But in the end, he held on to take the checkered flag and win the championship on a tiebreaker.
Tony himself acknowledged he didn't see it coming; nobody saw it coming. 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." Here's your chance, Tony.
But I think Tony's hero – the great A.J. Foyt – put it best when he said, "The reason Tony won is because he drove the best race of his life, period." And he did it with the rest of these drivers on his tail.
I want to make special mention out of this group of Carl Edwards. He's also a member of my Fitness Council. Carl battled Tony down to the wire and came about as close as you can get without actually winning, and congratulations on all your unbelievable success as well. I think everybody who saw Carl after the race, it was a great lesson in how you handle disappointment with grace and with class. He's an outstanding representative for NASCAR.
And that's typical [because] underneath the helmets, behind all the trash-talking – and I notice it seems to be picking up quite a bit lately – these are some outstanding men. And it's true about the whole NASCAR organization.
One thing I especially want to thank NASCAR for is the support you've provided for our men and women in uniform. You give active duty soldiers, wounded warriors [and] veterans all a VIP experience at races. And Michelle [Obama] had a chance to see that first-hand at the Homestead race last year.
You look out for military families, you look out for Gold Star families, you make regular visits to Walter Reed to raise spirits there. For you guys to give that much back to folks who have given so much to us as a country to protect us and keep us safe is remarkable. So I want to thank you all for what you do on behalf of our troops.
So congratulations again to Tony and his entire team, thanks to everybody in NASCAR for what you do for our country, thank you for not tearing up my grass and best of luck in the season to come.