INDIANAPOLIS — Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus, the first driver in any NASCAR series to do so, and will miss Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The news Friday about Johnson, 44, cast a shadow over the historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader races coming up Saturday and Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was no indication any races would be affected.
Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson will not return until he is cleared by a physician. He was tested earlier Friday after his wife, Chani, tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms.
Johnson is asymptomatic.
“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said. “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 earlier Friday held a Zoom session with reporters to discuss Sunday’s Cup Series race and an upcoming test of an Indy car on the road course at the fabled speedway. He will now miss that test, as well as the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400. Justin Allgaier will replace him in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
“Jimmie has handled this situation like the champion he is,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “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.”
Hendrick Motorsports said it has implemented detailed procedures to protect the health of its team members. They include daily virus screenings at the team facilities; the separation of facility operations and traveling personnel; split work schedules; stringent face covering and social distancing requirements; and an increased level of disinfecting and sanitizing all work areas.
Johnson is scheduled to retire from full time NASCAR competition at the end of the season and was trying to tie Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher as the only five-time winners at Indianapolis.
Johnson has made 663 consecutive Cup Series starts — the longest streak among active drivers — and is 12th in the standings, 63 points inside the playoff picture. NASCAR’s rules state a driver must be symptom free and have two negative coronavirus tests in a 24-hour span to return.
NASCAR said it has granted Johnson a playoff waiver.
“Jimmie is a true battle-tested champion, and we wish him well in his recovery,” the series said.
NASCAR was one of the first sports to resume competition from a pandemic shutdown and has completed 11 Cup races since its May 17 return. The sanctioning body does not test for coronavirus, but participants are required to do a temperature check as they enter the facilities.
Drivers have been told to isolate at the track, and there is very little interaction beyond radio conversation between the competitor and his crew.
Although Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske said they’ve had positive tests from shop-based team members, Johnson is the first driver to test positive.
— By JENNA FRYER
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