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It’s not a surprise attack, but there’s definitely an element of surprise in Tuesday’s NASCAR XFINITY takeover of Philadelphia.
Fresh from a fourth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Ben Kennedy envisioned the reaction of passersby to burnouts on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love.
“We’re going to do it around lunchtime,” Kennedy said of a planned stock car parade, complete with a smoke show, in downtown Philadelphia. “Naturally, people are probably going to be going to lunch. They might have an hour off where they can walk around and take in the city.
“They might happen to stumble upon it and see this stuff. That part will be pretty neat, and we’re all looking forward to it. … They’re going to shut down several streets here during lunchtime right in the heart of Philadelphia, right where all the action is going on, right where all the good restaurants and big businesses are.”
Kennedy is one of 12 NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers who flew into Philadelphia on Tuesday morning to raise awareness of NASCAR racing on the East Coast — but not through a traditional media blitz with in-studio appearances on television and radio.
Instead, through the coordination of Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway, the series entitlement sponsor — XFINITY — and the sanctioning body, the drivers were making stops that are representative of the fabric of Philadelphia life.
There was a STEM-focused question-and-answer session at the Franklin Institute, followed by a meet-and-greet autograph session with fans at the Comcast Center Front Plaza. Then came the parade through downtown Philly, featuring pit stops at City Hall followed by burnouts on Market Street.
Several drivers, including Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., took part in a cook-off featuring Pat’s and Geno’s, two renowned purveyors of Philly cheesesteaks.
Wallace answered the question that has occupied Philadelphians for decades, though he didn’t have a real basis for comparison.
“Geno’s,” Wallace said. “I had a Philly cheesesteak there. I didn’t have one at Pat’s, so Geno’s is No. 1 in my book. I was hungry, and it was really good.”
After landing in Philadelphia, Wallace had to work up an appetite.
“We were at the Franklin Institute, passing out tickets to families and kids to get them to Pocono and Dover events,” Wallace said. “That was a lot of fun.”
Wallace was happy to spend the day helping to promote his sport.
“You get a lot of weird looks when you’ve got a bunch of guys walking around in fire suits,” he said. “Everybody was wondering what’s up. And they definitely stopped to ask questions. We had a lot of tickets to hand out, and it’ll be cool to get some new faces out there in the stands.
“It’s all about promotion these days and getting the word out there. We’re continuing to try to get new faces and a new demographic and keep pushing those efforts. NASCAR has been doing everything they can to make that happen, using the young guns and XFINITY Series regulars.”
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More appearances followed, as drivers were scheduled to fan out to Thomas Edison High School, the Reading Terminal Market, an XFINITY Store grand opening at King of Prussia, an XFINITY live stint and, finally, the Philadelphia Phillies baseball game against the Seattle Mariners.
Roush Fenway Racing driver and two-time Daytona winner Ryan Reed was afforded the honor of throwing out the first pitch.
“They asked if I’d do it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’ ” Reed said after landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning. “I’m a little nervous. I was texting with somebody, and they said, ‘Don’t bounce it. Don’t bounce it in. Put some heat on it, whatever you do.’ ”
Previously, Reed had thrown a first pitch at a Birmingham Barons minor-league game but never before in the majors.
“I’m going out there cold,” Reed said. “I didn’t practice at all. You know, I might try to find a baseball if we get a break at some point and try to throw it somewhere. In downtown Philly, there’s not a lot of places to throw a baseball, but maybe I’ll get to the stadium a little early.”
Kennedy, the grandson of late NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. and the son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy, sees similarities between the Philadelphia takeover and some of the annual Champion’s Week festivities.
“It reminds me of being able to visit New York a while back,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, this is kind of a tradition and something we can do throughout the years. It’s really a pretty neat setup that they’ve got going on here. It’s pretty neat to have XFINITY and (parent company) Comcast so involved as well.”