Only two weeks ago, Jimmie Johnson — according to so many in the media — was in a horrific slump with no signs of regaining his old form that made him a sixtime Sprint Cup Series champion. Of course, all of that started to change in Charlotte over the Memorial Day weekend when he and his Hendrick Motorsports team broke out of their so-called slump and won the Coca-Cola 600.
The Charlotte win may have been his slump breaker, but the win he posted Sunday at Dover was like the official beginning of his march to his record-tying seventh series championship. He also let the rest of the sport in on what may have been the cause of his unusual slow start to the season.
In what had to be one of the best-kept secrets in the sport, Johnson revealed in an interview with FOX that he had hernia surgery right after the end of the season banquet. He actually had three hernias repaired during the procedure but was back training in 10 days.
Johnson said that he felt his surgery plus some bad weather in the winter led to his team missing three test sessions that could have caused his slow start to the season, which included an 11-race winless streak to start the season. The team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, also had to deal with the rule changes that NASCAR handed down to the teams over the winter and with the missed test dates, the team struggled to catch up.
Johnson’s run to his sixth title last season could have also played a part in his early season struggles as his team did not have the time to begin preparations in earnest for this season as they were in a battle for the championship that consumed their time during the final months of the season. Teams already eliminated from the championship run begin their preparations for the following season as the final races go off the board, but it’s a tradeoff that Johnson and Knaus would do every season if it included another run at a title.
Some drivers have tracks that just seems to suit their driving styles and the way that the crew chief sets up the car, and Dover is that track for Johnson and Knaus as Sunday’s win was their ninth win on the all-concrete track in 25 starts. The win was his 68th of his career and, with it being his second of the season, it guarantees him a spot in the Chase. Johnson is the only driver that has been part of every Chase and each of his six titles has been won under the Chase format.
PIT NOTES: The Dover TV broadcast was the last of the season for FOX as TNT will now take over for what it calls the six-week Summer Series. One feature that TNT will be bringing back from last season is the following of a driver and his team over the course of the entire week as they travel and prepare for the upcoming week. The coverage begins when the driver leaves the previous track and continues until the next weekend’s race. Several drivers have already been announced as taking part in the weekly feature includes Kyle Larson this weekend at Pocono, Austin Dillon (Michigan) and A.J. Allmendinger (Daytona).
TNT’s broadcast crew will include play-by-play announcer Adam Alexander and analysts Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach, plus FOX analysts Larry McReynolds will join the trio in the role of using a Toyota Camry Test Car to show what is taking place with the car both on the track and during pit stops.
Jeff Gordon enters this weekend’s race at Pocono as one of the favorites to beat as he is the all-time race winner at the track with six wins and is also the alltime lap leader with 972 laps with him at the point. The favorite this weekend may just be the hottest driver in the series now as Jimmie Johnson is the defending race champion and also owns the track qualifying record with a speed of 180.654 miles per hour.
Event: Pocono 400
Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5 mile tri-oval, Banking: Turn 1-140, Turn 2-80, Turn 3-60)
Date: June 8, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie Johnson