- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2011

HAMPTON, GA. (AP) - Four NASCAR stars will take a pass on meeting President Obama at the White House.

It doesn’t have anything to do with politics.

When word got out that Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards wouldn’t be going to the White House next Wednesday, it sparked plenty of chatter on talk shows and social media networks. There was speculation the four were making some sort of protest about Obama’s policies on behalf of a generally conservative sport.

Nonsense, insisted Biffle, who said he has to go to a two-day retreat in Minnesota for 3M, the major sponsor of his No. 16 car. The event has been scheduled for months and will be attended by clients from around the world.

“I saw some comments that we rejected the invitation,” Biffle said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “To me, that’s not what we did. Rejecting means, `No, I don’t want to go. I’m not going to go. You can’t make me go.’ That’s rejecting. Having a conflict and not being able to participate is something different.”

Stewart also had a scheduling conflict, though he declined to go into details.

“Trust me, if we could be there, we’d definitely be there,” he said. “I’ve always viewed it as an honor just to get an invitation to go. I’ve enjoyed every trip every time I’ve gone there. I’ve learned more and more about it. And it’s pretty cool feeling to be with most powerful man in the world. That’s not an invitation we take lightly.”

Eight other drivers who made last year’s Cup playoff, including five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, plan to be there along with NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France.

“Regardless of political views, when (president of the United States) sends an invite and wants to honor you at the White House, you accept,” Johnson wrote on Twitter, accompanied by a hash tag with the word “respect.” He added that some fans had complained about him accepting an invitation from Obama.

Biffle and Stewart pointed out they’ve been to the White House several times, meeting both former President George W. Bush and Obama, who was inaugurated in 2009.

“I’ve been there since he’s been in office,” Biffle said. “I’ve got a handshake picture with the president and I in the bookcase in my office, right behind my desk.”

Stewart said he wasn’t “going to put anybody under the bus by talking about” his conflicting plans, but insisted it was something he couldn’t break or change. Otherwise, he would have been at the White House.

“Every time I go, I learn more about each room,” Stewart said. “If you get the chance, you should go. It’s really worth it.”

Jeff Burton is among the drivers who will be meeting with the Democratic president, even though he’s thought to harbor future political ambitions as a Republican.

This isn’t about politics, Burton said.

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