Looking back at Sunday’s motor-racing action, including NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup at Dover and NHRA drag-racing at St. Louis, five things come to mind:
-- Wouldn’t it be something if Jeff Gordon won the Chase? Gordon, of course, got into the title playoff only because of executive fiat. NASCAR Chairman Brian France added Gordon to the 12-driver Chase on grounds that race-manipulation shenanigans by other teams prevented the four-time champion from earning a spot. Now, after Gordon finished fourth at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on Sunday, he’s tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth in the standings -- 39 points behind leader Matt Kenseth -- with seven races still to go.
-- With all due modesty, we told you so. A week ago we said Kenseth and Kyle Busch, then 1-2 in the Chase, should be looking over their shoulders for a lurking Jimmie Johnson. Sure enough, Johnson won for the eighth time at Dover, a record, and climbed over Busch for second place in the Chase. Johnson, who’s Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, now is only eight points behind Kenseth as Johnson seeks his sixth championship.
-- The near-term schedule lines up well for Johnson and Gordon. Up next is Kansas Speedway, where Johnson and Gordon each have two wins, although Kenseth won this year’s spring race there. Then comes Charlotte, another 1.5-mile oval. Charlotte is dubbed Johnson’s “house” because he’s tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip with a record six victories. Gordon, meanwhile, has put his No. 24 Chevrolet in Charlotte’s Victory Lane five times.
-- Attendance at Dover was embarrassing. Small wonder NASCAR stopped providing estimated attendance figures for Cup races this year. Dover International Speedway has a grandstand seating capacity of 113,000, but there were vast patches of empty seats at Sunday’s race that particularly stood out on television. This was one of the 10 races in the Chase playoff, mind you, at a track sandwiched between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Pick your reason -- the economy, ticket prices, the quality of the racing, it’s a long list -- but Sunday’s crowd at “The Monster Mile” should give NASCAR considerable pause.
-- There is no discounting the remarkable John Force. It’s one thing that the funny car legend is still even racing 300-mph dragsters at 64. It’s quite another that he’s still winning and in hot pursuit of an amazing 16th championship. With his win at the Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis -- the 136th victory of his storied career -- Force is only six points behind Matt Hagan in the funny car standings with three events left in the season. And Force is doing so despite the distraction of having to find replacements for two big sponsors who are leaving after next year.