NASCAR driver Tony Stewart battles off Kevin Harvick during the rain-delayed 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway today. (Jeff Gordon won, his 85th career checkered flag to place him now as the third all-time victory lane visitor.)
But that's not the point of this story.
The point of this story is that, like millions of Americans, neither Stewart nor Harvick will be at the White House on Wednesday for one of those grandiose photo ops that presidents in deep poll trouble love.
The schedulers of President Obama, a basketball fan, have invited over the 12 drivers who made last season's Chase for the Championship, NASCAR's season-ending playoff race series.
The White House can usually count on anyone who's been invited there eagerly showing up at the appointed time as an excited and willing prop for whatever the scheduled activity is.
However, this year a third of those 12 NASCAR drivers invited begged off -- Stewart, Harvick, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards.
They cited scheduling conflicts. They said the invitations came late, which is standard White House protocol. And, frankly, they have other commitments.
Which may well be true in some cases.
Although NASCAR races may not be programmed into the White House TiVo, these are after all the closing weeks of this year's Chase for the cup.
Although race fans only see their favorite drivers on race day, it's not like they sit around the other six days of each week.
In return for the multimillions invested by sponsors, these guys (and next year, gal, if Danica Patrick switches over successfully from Indy Cars) are headline celebrities at promotional events.
Biffle, for instance, is required to appear in Minneapolis on Wednesday at a 3M event built around him. Biffle says he has a photo in his office of himself and Obama shaking hands, and that there's no presidential disrespect intended by blowing off the White House this time.
Stewart says he too would have rescheduled other events if he could, which he can't, so he won't.
NASCAR is, to be honest, a red-state kind of scene, not counting California. C'mon, who'd look more comfortable standing next to Richard Petty and his hat -- the Harvard grad in pressed khakis or Texas Gov. Rick Perry in boots?
Now, being hand-over-the-heart, face-the-flag-don't-talk-during-the-anthem patriotic and all, none of these millionaire NASCAR guys would want to directly disrespect the president, even if he was a Democrat. Which he is.
Hence, the unavoidable scheduling conflicts.
Which may be true.
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-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Todd Warshaw / Getty Images (NASCAR's Tony Stewart leads Kevin Harvick during the Atlanta 500, Sept. 6); Joe Sebo / Associated Press (the field in Atlanta).