NASCAR’s Superman has found his kryptonite—the coronavirus.
After seven championships, 83 wins and 666 consecutive starts, Jimmie Johnson will be sidelined this weekend due to a positive test for COVID-19.
Johnson, 44, was tested on Friday after learning his wife, Chandra, tested positive for the virus that morning. Johnson is currently asymptomatic.
“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said on HendrickMotorsports.com. “I’ve never missed a race in my Cup career, but I know it’s going to be very hard to watch from the sidelines when I’m supposed to be out there competing.
“Although this situation is extremely disappointing, I’m going to come back ready to win races and put ourselves in playoff contention.”
Johnson will remain quarantined until cleared by a physician. Justin Allgaier will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Big Machine 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 2020, the final full-time season for the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, what could have gone wrong has. The pandemic has placed a pall on Johnson’s retirement tour, a pall that has deepened with the positive diagnosis.
When NASCAR returned to action at Darlington Raceway on May 17 after a 10-week hiatus, Johnson was en route to his first stage win of the season before wadding up his car coming to the green/checkered flag 90 laps into the race.
Two races later at Charlotte—and 102 races since Johnson’s last win—he finished second to Brad Keselowski in the Coca-Cola 600 only to have the No. 48 car disqualified in post-race after the rear end alignment was off in the optical scanning station.
Fast forward to this week which was not only to be his final start in the Brickyard 400, where Johnson has four wins, but where he was scheduled to live out the lifelong dream of testing an IndyCar on Tuesday.
“It’s really just been about going to the track for the team to look at me and form their opinion of my abilities in one of their race cars,” Johnson said during his media availability on Friday. “And certainly, I have that same opportunity to see what I think of each team and what an IndyCar even feels like.
“So, very early stages of all this. It’s hard to read too far into things at this point. But most importantly, I’m just thankful the teams are listening, willing and able to take me to the track just so I can learn.”
Now, Johnson will have to reschedule the tryout with Chip Ganassi Racing and hope that another opportunity opens up.
“It’s a test, it’s a tryout and it’s a two-way street,” Johnson said. “Two-way tryout for the team to look at me and for myself to look at a team.”
Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson was in continued contact with the team throughout the ordeal. HMS coordinated with NASCAR and following tracing has asked a member of the No. 48 traveling team to self-quarantine after recent close contact with Johnson.
“Jimmie has handled this situation like the champion he is,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “We’re relieved he isn’t showing symptoms and that Chani is doing great, and we know he’ll be back and ready to go very soon. It’s going to be difficult for him to be out of the car and away from his team, but it’s the right thing to do for Jimmie and everyone involved.”
NASCAR released a statement on Friday afternoon that Johnson alerted the sanctioning body that he had tested positive for COVID-19 per the guidelines outlined in the Event Operations Protocol manual.
“NASCAR has outlined the steps for Johnson’s return, in accordance with the CDC’s current guidelines, which includes that Johnson is symptom free and has two negative COVID-19 test results, at least 24 hours apart,” said the release. “NASCAR requires Johnson to be cleared by his physician before returning to racing.
“Jimmie is a true battle-tested champion, and we wish him well in his recovery. NASCAR has granted Jimmie a playoff waiver, and we look forward to his return as he races for an eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship.”