Obama Honors NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson

(CBS/Mark Knoller)
Talk about getting a great parking space.

Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson's #48 Chevy was parked just outside the South Portico of the White House.

"You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn," said President Obama with both pride and envy.

"In exchange for free parking," the president said to Johnson, "he should let me take the 48 out for a few laps."

But before Johnson could help the commander-in-chief into his helmet, Mr. Obama said the Secret Service didn't think it was a good idea.

As the owner of a Ford Escape Hybrid, Mr. Obama can only imagine what it would feel like to push the pedal to the metal of a car than can go upwards of 200 miles-per-hour.

It was not the "Cash-for-Clunkers" program that brought #48 to the White House. Mr. Obama was hosting an event to salute Jimmie Johnson and his team as winners of the 2008 Sprint Cup, Johnson's 3rd consecutive win.

"It's fitting that you've all come here to the White House – the American people's house – because NASCAR is a uniquely American sport," said the president.

He spoke of racings' "humble beginnings, when moonshiners raced on the sands of Daytona Beach during prohibition."

Since that time, said Mr. Obama, racing has "grown into a sport with tens of millions of fans here in America and around the world."

That's the reason why this president and previous ones have gone out of their way to reach out to NASCAR fans.

No matter what party controls the White House, they recognize the appeal of motorsports and want to be seen as fans and friends – if for no other reason that it's very good politics, especially for a president who expects to seek a second term.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.