Obama: Johnson is 'Michael Jordan of NASCAR'
June 25, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
WASHINGTON -- If it appeared Wednesday afternoon in the White House East Room that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and United States President Barrack Obama were old pals catching up -- sharing stories about their daughters or a little informal conversation about their day jobs -- that's because "Six-Time" and "Two-Time" practically are old friends.
No NASCAR driver in the last decade has gotten as much presidential time as the six-time and reigning champion Johnson who, along with his full No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team, was honored by President Obama for winning the 2013 Sprint Cup trophy.
Appearing relaxed and not needing notes for this occasion, the president commended Johnson for his dominance past and present.
"This year he is back at it -- he has already got more wins than any other driver, so maybe we should just make it easier on everybody, give the No. 48 car a permanent White House pass," Obama said as the room erupted in laughter. "Just don't take my parking spot."
"Yes, sir," Johnson said smiling.
"And no burnouts in the Portico," the president continued. "So I just want to say to the entire team, to Hendrick Motorsports, to Chad, to the pit crew, most of all, to Jimmie Johnson, congratulations. Keep up the great work."
The familiarity between President Obama and Johnson was apparent to everyone in the room. The president knew all about Johnson's title-winning seasons and even compared him to his beloved NFL Chicago Bears and in what may be the ultimate Obama compliment, he likened Johnson to NBA legend Michael Jordan.
"Now, everybody knows I'm a Chicago guy and usually when we do these sports events I make some crack about how the football is not as good as the '85 Bears or the basketball team is not as good as the Bulls, but today I can't really say anything because Jimmie Johnson is pretty much the Michael Jordan of NASCAR," President Obama said, smiling. "Like Mike, Jimmie has won six championships in eight years. He won a few titles, took a two-year break, decided, you know what, it's not that interesting, and then got back to winning again."
Then President Obama rolled off a list of Johnson's accomplishments and gave the champ perhaps the ultimate pat-on-the-back.
"These days, we've got a lot of kids all across the country who want to be like Jimmie," the president said. "And why shouldn't they?"
After the formal remarks, the president invited the entire No. 48 team on stage to pose with him and Johnson's Sprint Cup trophy. Before concluding the 15-minute ceremony, he paused to say goodbye and give a smile and thumbs-up to Johnson's wife Chandra and 3-year old daughter Evie sitting in the front row of the high-powered audience that also included NASCAR Chairman Brian France, U.S. Congressmen and national dignitaries.
Johnson acknowledged later that this kind of honor never gets old, calling it "mind-blowing" even 12 years after his first White House invitation with a group of drivers.
"This is the ultimate, being here at the White House, it's really the ultimate experience," Johnson said, conceding that on this visit he felt as comfortable as he appeared on stage with the president.
"I'm far less nervous than my first trip back in 2002," Johnson said. "The first few trips were watching other drivers get honored. My first trip as a champion, I vividly remember me shaking, my voice cracking and being a little afraid to engage and talk with President Busch, at the time. Through experience in life, getting older, I'm certainly more comfortable now and relaxed and enjoying the moment now.
"I've been here a lot of different times, some as champion, some as not, and that's a lot of motivation not being the champion and watching the others be honored. It makes you pretty hungry.
"I want to win another. Keep coming back."