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The Inside Line: Johnson back in winning form

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Updated: 6/02 2:04 pm

(SportsNetwork.com) - After being winless in the first 11 races this season, six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is on a roll with two victories in a row.

On Sunday, Johnson won at Dover International Speedway for a record-extending ninth time after leading 272 of 400 laps. Nobody could stop Johnson from having another dominating performance at this one-mile, concrete-surfaced track, not even a pothole that emerged during the first half of the race.

Johnson set another record at Dover. He now has a total of 2,976 laps led in 25 career starts there, surpassing the previous record of 2,802 laps led by Bobby Allison.

"The first run or two I didn't think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around, and I felt like we were in great shape," Johnson said. "Even with some varying track strategies, and I lost track position, we were still able to smoke our way through traffic and get to the front and control things."

NASCAR officials stopped the race on lap 161 after a sizeable piece of concrete came loose on the track surface. The concrete was kicked up by Ryan Newman's car. Jamie McMurray plowed right into it, causing damage to the front end of his car. Another chunk of debris from the track soared into the air and cracked a window along the pedestrian crossover bridge in turn 3.

During the 22-minute red-flag period, workers used quick-drying cement to repair the pothole. There were no issues with that area of the track for the remainder of the race.

"Whatever they put in that pothole worked awfully well," Johnson said. "Hats off to the track for the fix that they made."

The week before Dover, Johnson won at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a record seventh time. He led 164 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 -- the longest race of the NASCAR season.

It appeared that his momentum from Charlotte carried over to Dover.

"I knew that our (Charlotte) 600 car was good, and this was a new car that we brought here (to Dover)," Johnson said. "We're now at a point where we've identified areas to produce speed and bringing new versions and new cars to the track."

Prior to Charlotte, Johnson's winless streak had created much attention.

Was he just in a slump or was it something else?

During an interview with Darrell Waltrip on FOX television's pre-race show at Dover, Johnson said that he underwent hernia surgery a few days after he was honored for his sixth Sprint Cup title at the NASCAR Awards Banquet in Las Vegas this past December.

It was not publicly known that Johnson had the procedure.

"Surprised nobody knew about this thing sooner," he said during his post-race media availability. "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 midseason, a little protrusion in my skin and went and had it checked out. They were 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's laparoscopic procedure was minimally invasive, allowing him to recover quickly. It did prevent him from participating in a test session at Charlotte in mid-December.

"First couple days sucked. There's no doubt about that," Johnson said of his recovery from the surgery. "It affected that first test date. And then we had two other test dates scheduled at Nashville that made us comfortable to give up 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."

With two victories to his credit during the 26-race regular season, Johnson is expected to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He is the only driver who has qualified for the Chase each year since NASCAR instituted a playoff format for its premier series in 2004.

Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team are aiming for their seventh championship.

"We've worked really hard," Knaus said of team's efforts in 2014. "The one thing I'm really impressed with at Hendrick Motorsports is when we do get behind, which we feel like we've been just a pinch behind this year, everybody digs down really, really deep and they work hard, from the pit crew, from the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines and they try to find an advantage.

"When we do finally start to hit our stride, all those things that everybody worked on starts to culminate, and we can get out there and really start to make things happen."

Another championship for Johnson will place him in a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most titles in the series.

There are 13 races remaining before the Chase begins. The series heads to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania later this week.

"We've got some good tracks ahead for us," Johnson said. "Pocono next weekend is Chad's favorite racetrack, and I think you can look ahead at the summer months and see who historically runs well at different tracks and kind of pick your favorites. It certainly has been that way for us."

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