Five thoughts on NASCAR in Atlanta, IndyCar in Baltimore and more

Looking back at Sunday's motor-racing action, including the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Atlanta and the IndyCar Series race in Baltimore, five things come to mind:

1. Don't let Jimmie Johnson's skid fool you. The five-time champion has finished outside the top 25 in the last three races, including a 28th in Sunday night's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But his Hendrick Motorsports team remains as formidable as ever, and with four wins this season he'll be one of the top-seeded drivers when NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff starts in two weeks. For the other Chase contenders, Johnson's mini-slump is coming at exactly the wrong time.

2. Brad Keselowski's reign likely ends after one season. After winning the title last year, the media designated the articulate, thoughtful and social media-savvy Keselowski as the voice of a new generation of NASCAR fans. Now, the 29-year-old driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford -- 15th in the standings with no wins this year -- will need a small miracle at Richmond, Va., this Saturday to make the Chase. If not, he'll be among the outsiders looking in as 12 other drivers battle for the Cup.

3. Kyle Busch poised for his first title? We'll see. Busch's win in Atlanta, his fourth of the season, put the mercurial driver back in the Chase, a bit of redemption after he missed the playoff last year. But in his five prior Chase appearances, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has finished no better than fifth in the standings. Busch and his No. 18 Toyota still have a lot to prove in the 10 Chase races this season.

4. After Baltimore, IndyCar now goes dark for ... a month. After successive races in Sonoma and Baltimore that were filled with crashes, angry drivers and unexpected names on the podiums, the Izod IndyCar Series disappears until Oct. 5-6, when it has a doubleheader on the streets of Houston. That hardly seems a recipe for building momentum and fan interest heading into the series' final three races of the year. After Houston, the finale is Oct. 19 on the fast, two-mile oval in Fontana.

5. Sebastian Bourdais still knows how to wheel a race car. It's unclear whether the 34-year-old Frenchman will again have an IndyCar ride next season but on Sunday, at least, Bourdais showed he can still get around a street course. Bourdais, who won the championship for four consecutive years in the old Champ Car World Series, finished third in Baltimore -- his third top-three finish in the last five races -- after leading 19 laps.


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