NEW YORK Stock cars were parked on the South Lawn at the White House on Tuesday as President Bush met with several drivers, car owners, mechanics and officials from the NASCAR circuit.
After accepting a leather coat from newly-crowned Winston Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, Bush talked of the sport's rapid growth and popularity before turning to Brian France and offering these words of wisdom:
''You know there's nothing wrong, Brian, with following in your father's footsteps.''
France recently became NASCAR's chairman after his father, Bill France Jr., retired. Bush, of course, followed his father to the presidency.
''It's a time of change for NASCAR,'' Bush said. ''It's one of the reasons why the sport is continuing to attract a lot of fans. Yet, the values long held by the drivers in this sport endure. It's one of the things I like most about NASCAR. You know the work you do away from the track is really what makes the NASCAR drivers the true champs.''
The visit was part of the sport's week-long championship celebration. Kenseth, crew chief Robbie Reiser and car owner Jack Roush were honored by the president.
Others attending the ceremony were car owners Richard Childress, Teresa Earnhardt, Ray Evernham, Chip Ganassi, Rick Hendrick and Felix Sabates and current and former drivers Dale Jarrett, Ned Jarrett, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Michael Waltrip.
''Before today, I never imagined that I would get the chance to meet the president or visit the White House,'' Kenseth said. ''It was a big honor. The president is an ordinary, down-to-earth guy. We chatted a bit. He told us some stories and he gave us a tour of the Oval Office.''
Kenseth was in New York by Wednesday completing his whirlwind tour of photo shoots and interviews.
It started Monday with appearances on The Today Show and Live with Regis and Kelly. He did a bit with Regis Philbin where he made the staple of his Wisconsin roots bratwurst.
On Monday he also met with New York City firemen and signed autographs. It concludes Friday night with the NASCAR Awards Banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Kenseth will get more than $4.5 million in bonuses and awards to push his season totals past the $8.5 million mark.
CLEARING THE AIR: Two of the biggest vacancies on the Nextel Cup Series will be filled today when Evernham and Childress announce their plans.
Evernham will say driver Bill Elliott will retire from his full-time duties in his No. 9 Dodge and make selected appearances next year. His job will be filled with current Busch Series driver Kasey Kahne.
Childress will say who has the ride in his No. 30 Chevrolet next year.
Reportedly, Johnny Sauter is the frontrunner, although his employer on the Busch Series said he knows of no such deal.
CHEVROLET ROARS: Chevrolet will try to duplicate its winning magic from the 2001 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona when it enters a couple of Corvettes in the twice-around-the-clock race at Daytona International Speedway road course.
Chevrolet apparently has recruited Nextel Cup Series drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, while Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are considering the sports car race.
PIT STOPS: Harrah's Casinos will not return as the sponsor for Larry Foyt's No. 14 Dodge. Doug Randolph has been hired as the new crew chief at MBV for the No. 10 Chevrolet driven by rookie Scott Riggs. The Atlanta chapter of the Speedway Children's Charities Foundation will present more than $136,000 in donations to 16 area charities. Tony Raines, who was reportedly up for the job in the No. 30 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing, said he won't leave BACE Motorsports, although that team does not have a sponsor for next season. Triple Crown champion J.J. Yeley, who will drive developmental schedule on the ARCA, Busch and Nextel Cup circuits next year for Joe Gibbs Racing, will make his Nextel Cup debut at Las Vegas. Car owner Cal Wells said that he won't have a second team for driver Ricky Craven in 2004. BelCar Racing, which lost the Army National Guard as a sponsor, is down to a skeleton staff. The team hopes it will find a sponsor to keep both the No. 54 Ford and driver Todd Bodine on the track.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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