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DOVER, Del. -- Turns out a day after being honored in Las Vegas for his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last December, Jimmie Johnson returned home to Charlotte and underwent hernia surgery.
Johnson laughed off the minor media uproar the news created following the FOX Sports pre-race television show where he spoke candidly about the routine procedure in a sit-down, heart-to-heart interview with Darrell Waltrip.
"Surprised nobody knew about this thing sooner," Johnson said with a slight smile. "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 these 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."
Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus were adamant that the out-patient procedure and recovery period did not adversely affect his preparation for the 2014 season.
And he became only the third multi-race winner and first to win back-to-back this season on Sunday, with his victory in the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway backing up his win in the No. 48 Chevy at Charlotte last week.
But because it took 11 weeks for him to score his first victory of 2014 -- a slow start by the Jimmie Johnson standard so many have come to expect -- he faced questions after the race as to whether the medical situation may have played any role in his season to date.
"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," Johnson explained.
His longtime crew chief Chad Knaus pointed to other factors that may have contributed to playing a bit of victory catch-up -- none of them having to do with Johnson's surgery.
"The only thing from my standpoint that set us back for the 2014 season was just us going for the championship in 2013, and that's it," Knaus said. "That was purely my focus last year and all I was concerned about. I didn't care about anything that we were doing to prepare for 2014. It was the furthest thing in my mind for the last three months of last year."
While Knaus and Johnson were busy winning the championship, Knaus reminded that some of the best competitors so far in 2014 such as two-time winner Kevin Harvick and the two Team Penske cars -- which have three wins between them -- were able to get a head-start on the new season.
"When you have guys like the Penske guys who were basically out of the championship hunt, when you have a guy like Rodney Childers who's an amazing crew chief, you give him six months off to where all he has to do is prepare for the next season, he'd better come out guns blazing, especially when he works for Kevin Harvick," Knaus said.
"I feel like that is the reason we were behind coming into the 2014 season. The further we get into the season, the more I think that that'll level back off. "
Johnson said he was genuinely surprised to learn the news about his hernia would be so noteworthy. He said his competitors in the garage had known about it even in the preseason.
It certainly didn't slow Johnson down. He ran the Daytona Beach Half Marathon in February -- for the second consecutive year finishing the 13.1 miles in less than an hour and a half (1:28:17) -- an impressive feat even if he hadn't recently had surgery.
"I think there's a couple pieces to it," Johnson said. "We missed, I think, three test sessions at the start of the year. One was because of the hernia surgery, and I was back training again I think it was 10 days later, so it was a laparoscopic procedure, so it wasn't all that invasive.
"The first couple days (post surgery) sucked. There's no doubt about that. But then quickly it got back together and was training within 10 days. It affected that first test date. And then we had two other test dates scheduled at Nashville that made us comfortable to give us that Charlotte test so I could have the hernia surgery and both of those were canceled due to weather.
"So three opportunities for us to go test were out the window and I do feel like that hurt us some and had us behind a little bit behind.
"We knew we had a gap to make up and those guys were off to a quick start."
Judging by the team's showing on Sunday -- when Johnson seemed to easily have the field covered -- he's more than made up ground.
"We've got some good tracks ahead for us," Johnson said. "We can get on a roll."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- hernia surgery
- Chad Knaus
- Jimmie Johnson