Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the first NASCAR Cup driver do so.
Johnson, a four-time Brickyard winner, will miss Sunday’s Cup at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and next week’s IndyCar test on the Indy road course for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Hendrick Motorsports said in a statement Friday that Johnson will not return until he is cleared by a physician.
Johnson, 44, has not experienced symptoms of COVID-19, according to the Hendrick Motorsports statement. He was tested upon learning Friday morning that his wife Chandra tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms.
Justin Allgaier will drive for Johnson in his absence.
“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said in a statement from Hendrick Motorsports. “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, who is in his final full-time Cup season, has the longest streak for consecutive starts among active drivers at 663. He was to have started fourth in Sunday’s race.
Said car owner Rick Hendrick in a statement: “Jimmie has handled this situation like the champion he is. 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 announced that it has granted Johnson a playoff waiver should he win a race before the playoffs begin. NASCAR also stated:
“Following the guidelines outlined in the Event Operations Protocol manual, Jimmie Johnson has alerted NASCAR that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
“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. 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.”
Hendrick Motorsports stated that as a precaution, it identified one member of the No. 48 traveling crew to self-quarantine due to close contact with Johnson.
Last month Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed that two employees had tested positive for coronavirus. Team Penske confirmed last month that one of its employees tested positive.
Hendrick Motorsports stated that it has implemented detailed procedures to protect the health of its team members. That includes daily COVID-19 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 sanitization of all work areas.
The announcement about Johnson came shortly after Major League Baseball announced Friday that 31 players have tested positive. Nineteen different teams had at least one player test positive.
This comes as the nation sees a surge in coronavirus cases. The United States reported more than 55,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a daily global record. Global coronavirus cases exceeded 11 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.
This weekend’s Cup, Xfinity and IndyCar races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be held without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.