Jimmie Johnson opens up on off-season hernia surgery

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Insisting that folks in the Sprint Cup garage already knew about it, Jimmie Johnson admitted surprise that news of his off-season hernia surgery failed to reach the media until this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“Everybody at the track knew, all the competitors knew that I wasn’t there because I was having a procedure done,” Johnson said after his second win of the year on Sunday. “Why it didn’t make it to the media center is beyond me, and no big deal, I guess.”

Johnson disclosed that the surgery took place after last December’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards in Las Vegas, where he was honored for winning his sixth career Cup championship.

According to him, he had one bilateral hernia on each side and a third one in his belly button.

“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,” he explained. “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.”

Per Johnson, the procedure led to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team missing one off-season test, while inclement weather scratched two more such tests.

He believes all of those factors combined to put his team behind on performance in the early races of 2014.

“First couple days sucked, there’s no doubt about that,” he said of his recovery. “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, especially once we did get to Nashville and were there and the 4 car [Kevin Harvick/Stewart-Haas Racing] was there testing. We knew we had a gap to make up, and those guys were off to a quick start.”

When asked Johnson’s surgery and its effects going into this season, his crew chief, Chad Knaus, said their battle for the 2013 Cup title with Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing was the main factor behind the 48’s initial lack of success this year.

“[The championship] was purely my focus last year and all I was concerned about,” Knaus said. “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.”

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/