- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 11, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - 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.

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