Image: Obama, Johnson
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Barack Obama honors 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday.
updated 8/19/2009 5:40:43 PM ET 2009-08-19T21:40:43

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had the gas to get to the White House on Wednesday, where President Barack Obama honored the 2008 winner as well as auto racing.

"NASCAR is a uniquely American sport," Obama said beneath the South Portico, flanked by most of the 12 drivers who competed last year for NASCAR's top prize.

Obama said NASCAR drivers work to support U.S. troops, local schools and environmental innovation. Obama said the sport certainly has grown since "moonshiners" raced in Daytona Beach, Fla., to become a service-oriented organization known around the world.

"One of the core values of the NASCAR community is the belief that service isn't just something you do once in a while when it's convenient. It's a way of life," the president said. "That's the face of America that you show to the world."

In a race on Sunday, Johnson took the lead with two laps to go but he gambled on his fuel and ran out of gas. Instead of winning, he finished 33rd. It was the third time this season that Johnson has run out of gas, but that wasn't a problem on Wednesday.

Joining Johnson at the White House were other Sprint Cup drivers and past champions. Special guests included wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and campers from the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., which NASCAR supports.

Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet also was parked on the White House driveway, with the glittery Sprint Cup perched on a table nearby.

"It's not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn. Fortunately, we got Jimmie to agree not to do any burnouts and tear up my back yard," Obama said.

He also joked that he wanted to take the car out for a few laps in exchange for the free parking, but that the Secret Service told him no.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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