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.”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”