My Brain on NASCAR: A dark day at White House for Keselowski

We don’t normally think of April as one of the more patriotic months of the year, but that is exactly what it has turned out to be.

After twin explosions at the end of the Boston Marathon on April 15 claimed the lives of three people and injured hundreds more, we saw our fellow Americans – both first responders and bystanders on the street — band together to face yet another national tragedy.

So on Tuesday, the shiver of patriotism that ran up my spine was particularly potent as President Barack Obama took a few minutes off from grim reality to focus on one of the nation’s favorite methods of escapism: sports.

It has become an annual tradition for “America’s house” to host the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship team, and this year, first-time champ Brad Keselowski finally got his turn.

“We are here today to celebrate a great American sport,” President Obama said. “I don’t think a single one of Brad’s fans has forgotten the post-race interview he gave on Sportscenter after winning the title last year at Homestead. ‘NASCAR is a team sport, and I have the best team. My family, my friends, my fans, my co-workers … without them, I am nothing.’ That’s what Brad said, and that’s really what life’s all about.”

It was ironic and more than a little sad to hear the president speak of the importance of teamwork with the Boston bombings still so fresh in our minds. Some felt that perhaps the ceremony should be postponed, but the White House felt otherwise, and Keselowski agreed.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Not because it was me, obviously, being honored, but because of what it means to our country to continue to move on despite those acts and showcase that they won’t rattle us.”

Keselowski was commended for his work with the Wounded Warrior project. “For Brad, our veterans are an important part of his team,” Obama said. “I’m going to quote him: ‘I couldn’t do what I do on the racetrack without these men and women making the sacrifices that they do for me.’

“So Brad, I want to thank you for visiting with some of our wounded warriors later this afternoon and I want to thank you, as well as NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, for your long tradition of honoring our troops and our veterans.”

As always, it was cool to see “our” champion and his car, “our” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy, “our” drivers and other representatives of “our” sport with the White House as their backdrop. But most importantly, that setting served as a reminder of why we have the luxury of calling these things “ours” to begin with. How fortunate we are, even when times are challenging, to be Americans, and to have an all-American sport like NASCAR to enjoy, and to claim as our own.

In the past, NASCAR’s day at the White House has struck a lighter chord, with the president even cracking a few jokes for the benefit of his appreciative audience. The tone on Tuesday was more somber, appropriately, but the president lightened things up at the end, commenting that he was “getting tired of seeing Johnson all the time” and glumly telling the crowd that “Brad offered to let me drive his car around the South Lawn, but once again the Secret Service said no.”

As Keselowski bantered with Obama, chances are that in the back of his mind he was wondering what penalties NASCAR might have in store for his team after illegal parts were found on the No. 2 Ford prior to the April 14 race at Texas Motor Speedway. Perhaps he even asked the President to put in a good word for him.

Might a presidential pardon be in the works? I’m not sure even the White House has that much clout with NASCAR.

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