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NASCAR sends championship contenders on Chase tour

Kasey Kahne took some imaginary swings before he was handed his Philadelphia Phillies jersey and cap.

"I'd love to take some batting practice," he said, smiling.

Kahne's hacks at the plate have to wait. He's focused on going deep in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship as a contender for the sport's biggest prize.

Even standing alone in a Philadelphia sports bar, Kahne kept an eye on the competition.

He watched a Dale Earnhardt Jr. interview shown on the giant big screen TV before he answered questions from a pack of NASCAR fans.

Yes, even with Phillies fans sipping pregame beers before heading across the street to the ballpark, there were dozens of fans dressed in Kahne gear waiting for autographs and to wish their favorite driver luck in the Chase.

Kahne wasn't alone in touring venues near the Chase tracks. Some of NASCAR's elite drivers in the Chase crisscrossed their way across the country Tuesday to promote the 10-race playoff that will crown a champ. Kahne visited Philadelphia. Earnhardt did a media tour in Connecticut.

The "Chase Across America" tour sent drivers to various events where they met breast cancer survivors, Coast Guard personnel and firefighters.

The Chase kicks off Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Denny Hamlin holds the points lead over five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Defending champion Tony Stewart is third.

Kahne said Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, had to be considered the favorite to win a sixth championship.

"Denny's been as strong as anyone lately. Brad Keselowski has been as consistent as anyone in the sport," Kahne said. "I think those three are the three you really have to look at."

Kahne wasn't recognized or acknowledged by Phillies fans as he walked in Xfinity Live in a city not exactly known as a NASCAR hot spot. The ones who did come peppered Kahne with softball questions and Kahne was happy to visit a city that doesn't have a deep fandom in the sport.

After missing the Chase last season, Kahne didn't care where he was sent. He headed over to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies play the Miami Marlins.

"I was thinking, last year I was home not doing a whole lot," he said. "So it's a good thing. I'm glad that I'm here. I've never been to a Phillies game before. I'm going to enjoy the next couple of days."

It's a whirlwind week for the drivers who qualified for the Chase.

Johnson spent Monday in New York and Stewart will attend an event next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt spent Tuesday on ESPN's campus and Keselowski visited a fire department near Chicago. Hamlin attended a surprise meet-and-greet with members of a local National Guard unit in Concord, N.H. Kevin Harvick met breast cancer survivors at Talladega Superspeedway; Martin Truex Jr., was at the Sprint campus in Kansas; Clint Bowyer shared his life story at a high school assembly in Texas; Jeff Gordon met fans in Phoenix; and Matt Kenseth has lunch with the Coast Guard in Miami.

Greg Biffle was honored at a Martinsville High School pep rally that included cheerleaders, a marching band, race cars, football players, and a stadium full of cheering students.

Biffle landed in a helicopter on the 50-yard line of the school's football field.

Students showed their enthusiasm for Biffle throughout the rally, holding up signs that read, "Barking for Biffle," ''Bulldogs Love Biffle," ''Greg Goes Vroom Vroom," and "Every Senior Picks No. 16."

Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins declared Sept. 11, 2012 as "Greg Biffle Day" in Martinsville.

"To be able to land the helicopter at the high school on the 50-yard-line, I was like, 'Oh yeah, that's going to be fun,'" he said. "Then to come in and see all the students and the cheerleaders, it was really neat and a very fun experience. With the mascot, the bulldog, and all of that, yeah, it was a lot of fun."

Keselowski took a tour of Engine Co. 70 in Edison Park and was presented with the shield the firefighters affix to their helmets. Keselowski said he would put the shield in his car for good luck Sunday.

At a local pub about 15 miles from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin predicted he'd be in the hunt to win the title he was denied as runner-up to Johnson in 2010.

"We lost the championship by not having good fuel mileage and having to pit when no one else did and losing tons of points. For me, I think we've got all that figured out," he said. "The only thing that's going to keep us from a championship this year is circumstances out of our control."

The drivers made their promotional pit stops then hit the road to Chicago.

Kahne was leaving when the Phillies game ended.

"I like coming to places like this," he said. "I enjoy the atmosphere. I need to figure out how to come back here at some point and go to an Eagles game."