June 4, 2014

Motorsports Insider: After slow start, Jimmie Johnson has look of a champion

The No. 48 team has a chance to go for a seventh Sprint Cup championship.

When Jimmie Johnson got off to such a slow start this season, there had to be a reason, right?

There was.

The six-time champion was coming off hernia surgery. The recovery and a couple of rainouts made him skip three testing sessions in January, and he said that might have been some of what left him winless for the first 11 races of the season.

“I do feel like that hurt us some and had us behind a little bit,” he said.

Maybe Johnson feels better talking about it now — now that he’s won twice. His victory at Dover, combined with his victory at Charlotte two weeks ago, has eliminated all worry about getting a chance to go for a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

The surgery seems like a long time ago —and it was. In December, days after the awards banquet.

“Got home Sunday and then went in Monday morning following the banquet,” he said. “Surprised nobody knew about this thing sooner. It wasn’t a secret by any stretch of the imagination, but I had bilateral hernias, one on each side, and then a third one in my belly button. So I was very lucky to go in and have all three fixed.

“It wasn’t a sports hernia. It was something over time and getting older that something like 60 percent of men near the age of 40 have and don’t know. But I saw one mid-season, a little protrusion in my skin and went and had it checked out, and they’re like, you’ve got a couple years to get it fixed. So I figured I’d get it fixed sooner rather than later and went in right after the banquet.”

So that’s part of the reason for the slow start.

The other was missing test sessions, although, after last year’s grueling bid for the sixth title, Johnson did not frown on a little time off for the No. 48 team.

“That kind of led to us missing out on some of the test sessions that went on during the winter months, but we felt like it was time to shut things down and let the team kind of recoup and then just got back after it after that,” he said.

The hernia recovery was actually tougher on someone besides Johnson.

Crew chief Chad Knaus, a notorious workaholic and taskmaster, could hardly stand it. But he, like Johnson, kept confidence that driver and team would hit their stride, even if it was later than they were used to.

“If you ask Jimmie, I was a jerk three weeks ago,” Knaus said. “Quite honestly, I’m at the best point in my life. I’ve been very fortunate to have been in this sport for a long time. I’ve seen it grow and change, and it’s been a weird, circuitous route to get to where we are now. But quite honestly, I’ve never been happier in my life with my personal life, my performance at the racetrack, what we’ve got going on. And Jimmie has helped a lot with that.”

Jimmie and his hernia.

Series updates

Sprint Cup

Last time at Pocono: Kasey Kahne won the August race at Pocono last year. It’s the last time he’s won in Sprint Cup, 28 races ago.

Milestones: Kyle Busch became the 15th driver with 10,000 laps led when he tallied 81 last week at Dover. ... Greg Biffle went a series-record 85th consecutive race without a DNF.


Schedule break: The series is off this weekend, but next weekend at Iowa begins a stretch of 18 races in 18 weeks.

Camping World Truck

Quiroga streak: German Quiroga is the only driver with a top-10 in every race this season. The second-year Mexican driver is fourth in the standings, six points out of the lead.


Up front: James Hinchcliffe has qualified on the front row in each of the past three races — at Indianapolis and each doubleheader race at Detroit. He finished 28th at Indy and sixth and fifth at Detroit.

Power vs. RHR: Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the only drivers with two victories this season. They each have four podium finishes, and each has won one pole position.


Rookie winner: Richie Crampton, an Australian in his first year in NHRA Top Fuel, won his first race last week and also became the 100th winner in the series. It was his ninth career start for the former crew member for team owner Morgan Lucas.

Chart climber: Cruz Pedragon won in Funny Car, tying Don Prudhomme for fourth on the all-time list with 35 victories.

10 Top-10 finishes for Matt Kenseth this season, more than any other driver. But he is winless, which matters in the new Chase-qualifying format.


“I am going to make everyone mad, but I root for the Patriots because I am from Connecticut. I have been up to their place. But working for Roger Penske, you learn to root for Detroit quite a bit.”

— Joey Logano, after visiting a Detroit Lions practice this week

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