Busy schedules, short notice reason why four drivers won’t go to White House
HAMPTON, Ga. – All four of the 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who won’t visit the White House next Wednesday insisted they have scheduling conflicts, not political issues with President Barrack Obama.
The four – Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick – had longstanding commitments to their sponsors and race teams that couldn’t be changed, especially with less than a two-week notice.
“I read where I rejected it. That’s not true,” Biffle said. “I can’t go. I have a prior obligation. I didn’t reject anything. Rejecting something means I won’t go. I can’t go. There’s a difference. I got an invitation before. I went, met him, I got a photo on my bookshelf in my office at my house of us shaking hands.”
Biffle will be at the 3M customer service day, an annual event of employees and customers of the company that sponsors his race car.
Edwards has a personal commitment at home in Missouri, while Stewart and Harvick didn’t reveal their off-track schedules.
Edwards is a member of the Presidential Fitness Council, so he visits the White House several times a year. In fact, he’s supposed to see the president later this month.
All 12 drivers who were involved in last year’s Chase for the Championship were invited to meet with the president next Wednesday. Eight of the 12 and NASCAR chairman Brian France will be at the White House. The others will be fulfilling commitments that have been scheduled as long as a year ago.
Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson will lead a group that includes Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
Originally NASCAR said Kurt Busch wouldn’t be at the White House. He quickly dispelled that Friday afternoon at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Who would turn down an opportunity to meet the president? I’ve met (George) Busch; I’ve met Obama,” he said. “It’s an honor to be invited.”
At the same time, Kurt Busch defended the drivers who had conflicts, especially since so much of their time is spent making appearances for NASCAR to promote the upcoming Chase.
“Everybody has these kinds of scheduling problems,” he said. “It’s a tough, busy schedule for everybody.”
For example, Edwards has just two off days in September. Biffle has less than five between Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 at the Atlanta and the end of the season in November.
Almost immediately, the four who couldn’t meet with the president were criticized on social media and on national talk radio.
Fellow drivers also weighed in.
“I don’t think it’s fair for the people who accepted the invitation; I don’t think it’s fair for the people who didn’t and say that’s political,” Burton said. “This has never come up before. I had to work really hard to free up my schedule to make it happen.
“You can have respect for the presidency and not agree with everything that’s going on. We all blame everything on Washington and maybe we should look in the mirror. It’s our country.”
Johnson, however, took a tougher stand, writing on his Twitter page: “regardless of political views, when [president of the United States] sends an invite and wants to honor you at the White House, you accept.
“I have no idea why some can’t/won’t attend the White House trip.”
Johnson also said he has been criticized for accepting the invitation.
Teams practiced late Friday. There’s another practice session today at 1:30 p.m., followed by pole qualifying at 5:10 p.m.
The main event starts at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
THINK PINK: Thirty breast cancer survivors were treated to laps around the race track early Friday as the speedway and Chevrolet got a jump on Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Ron Hornaday Jr. drove the women in a shocking pink pace car during the ride-arounds. The same pink cars will be used in Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500.