NASCAR stars getting revved up for Chase

Matt Kenseth pilots an inflatable rescue boat during a practice mission. Courtesy of Homestead Miami Speedway

Matt Kenseth navigated his No. 17 Ford to victory through a rain-delay postponed, crash-filled and jet-fuel-explosion-delayed Daytona 500 in February. That race ended at 12:56 a.m. on a Tuesday, nearly 36 hours after its originally scheduled start.

So taking the controls of the 87-foot long, 90-ton, 2,900-horsepower United States Coast Guard coastal patrol boat Diamondback (WPB-87370) off the South Florida coast wasn't much of a challenge, right? "There's been time I felt like my race car handled like that, but thankfully not lately," Kenseth told Playbook Wednesday. "Not much for similarities [with the car]. You sit way up high there and they kind of feel tippy, but you feel solid. I was amazed by all the technology."

Some of that technology would no doubt come in handy during the Chase. "The radar some of the things they have to look at other boats at night ... like thermal imaging ... and the auto pilot. That was very cool."

Kenseth visited the U.S. Coast Guard's District 7 base in Miami Beach on Tuesday as part of NASCAR's Chase Across America media tour, which will feature appearances in nine of the 10 Chase track markets (Tony Stewart will visit Charlotte Motor Speedway next week) and New York. Dale Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, stopped by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

Kenseth, who does not see any boat racing in his future, also piloted a rigid inflatable rescue boat during a practice mission during which members of the Diamondback's crew safely recovered a "victim" at sea. Kenseth's biggest concern. "Not running over the dummy."

The visit with the Coast Guard was very informative. "I learned a lot about the machines they use and the people that makes the machines go," he said. "The men and women of the Coast Guard work really hard - they take their job seriously. I really didn't understand all the things they did or work and preparation that goes into what they do."

Kenseth will be driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing next season. But his focus is squarely on the Chase for Roush Fenway Racing. Simply put, he said his chances are "1 in 12" adding, "I feel that this is one of the most competitive, if not the most, competitive Chase fields ever. You can go through the other 11 guys and not see any weaknesses. You're going to have to perform in the top five every week to put yourself in a position to win. "

All 12 Chase drivers will speak with media and fans today in Chicago. Among the other stops on Tuesday's national tour:

Brad Keselowski played fireman with Chicago's bravest at Engine Co. 70 in Edison Park. The Chase for the Cup begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway at 2 p.m. EDT on ESPN.

Denny Hamlin visited the 169th Aviation Regiment National Guard unit in Concord, N.H. The unit is set to deploy to Afghanistan next month. Things got pink in Alabama.

From @Black29Car via img.ly

Kevin Harvick helped to paint Talladega Speedway pink to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month in advance of the track's Oct. 7 Chase race.

Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle took part in a couple of big-time pep rallies.

Bowyer had to turn down Rachel Blum's invite to the Northwest High School homecoming dance during his stop at a Texas Motor Speedway 9-11 remembrance event honoring Fort Worth police and firefighters. Boywer did invite her to be his guest at the Chase race there Nov. 4.

Biffle was cheered at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway by several hundred students:

Jeff Gordon answered questions from fans and media in Phoenix. Gordon said he's growing his retro-1990s mustache, making true on his recent Twitter vow to grow it back if he made the Chase.

“I don't know if it (bringing back the mustache) will be as hip as Johnny Depp's,” Gordon said in a NASCAR release. “Although my wife would approve if that."

Martin Truex Jr. got a sneak peak at NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship trophy at Sprint headquarters in Kansas. And Kasey Kahne caught a baseball game:

For these drivers, time for fun and games is now over.

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