Breaking down Dover: Hernias, holes and Chase hopefuls

Athletes get hurt. It happens in every sport, including auto racing.

Sometimes the injuries are serious, other times, not so much. But in this era of 24/7 news cycles and the never-ending hunt for web clicks and page views, you can make the argument that any injury to a professional athlete is news. The question is, how big is the news?

Depends on both the athlete and the injury.

Friday at Dover International Speedway, Tony Stewart said he got "chuckled" by how much attention the media paid to his mishap in a sprint car last year.

"I still laugh about how big a deal this has all been made," said Stewart. "We had Cup drivers get hurt last year. One had a broken wrist (Martin Truex Jr.), one had a broken back (Denny Hamlin) and nobody said anything.  It was all minor news. I've made more news by getting hurt in a dirt car than any of these guys. It's bigger news than the guy that had the same injury I had falling off a bicycle last week."

After winning Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover, Jimmie Johnson disclosed that he had off-season hernia surgery that forced him to miss a single test session, which is one of several contributing factors to what by Johnson's standards had been a comparatively slow start to the season – at least until he won at Charlotte last week and Dover and Sunday.

No disrespect to Tony, but when a three-time champion and team co-owner breaks his leg so badly that bones come through the skin in two places, he misses the Chase for the Sprint Cup, can't drive at all for six months and while he's hospitalized, his partner decides to add a fourth car and sign a driver without talking to him first, yes, it news. Big news.

Much bigger news than Hamlin missing four races or Truex driving hurt.

That should be obvious.

The Johnson hernia surgery? In my opinion it's no big deal. The net result, apparently, was that the six-time champ missed one off-season test session but was back training 10 days after the procedure. Probably the reason some folks made a big deal out of it is that it wasn't disclosed until now.

Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew chief, got a laugh out of the Johnson hernia surgery, going on Twitter to post:

Some other thoughts following Johnson's dominating victory at the Monster Mile:

-- Exactly halfway through the 26-race Sprint Cup season, there have been 10 different race winners so far. A total of 16 drivers will make the Chase - up to 16 race winners, or if there are fewer than 16 winners, everyone who has won, plus the highest ranked in points who haven't won.

My prediction is we'll end up with 13 or 14 regular-season winners and a couple of guys who make it in on points. I think Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson definitely win over the next 13 races and about eight or 10 other guys - Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer among them - could win. Obviously, not all of them will win. But you'll see a couple of big names miss the Chase, for sure.

-- A fervent hope is that NASCAR makes some significant changes to the Sprint Cup schedule for 2015, especially as it pertains to the Chase. In 2013, the Generation-6 car was new; this year brought the advent of a new Chase format. Now, it's time to tweak the schedule.

-- Kyle Larson continues to impress. In his rookie season and with a team that has not had the consistent success of, say, a Hendrick or a Gibbs or a Penske, Larson is 10th in points in his rookie season. Pretty solid, all things considered.

-- Hated to see Kyle Busch's shot at a second triple end when he accidentally got put into the wall by Clint Bowyer. Don't know if Busch would have had anything for Johnson at the end, but would have liked to see him get the chance to race for it and let the chips fall where they may.

-- It was another tough day for Roush Fenway Racing, with both Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. getting taken out in a crash with AJ Allmendinger. Carl Edwards' 14th-place finish was nothing to write home about, either.

-- Kudos to the Dover crew for a comparatively rapid repair of the hole caused by a chunk of track coming up in Turn 2. All things considered, 22 minutes and 22 seconds was quick work.