Cliff Daniels

Jimmie Johnson uncertain how he got COVID-19

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INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson says he doesn’t know how he and wife Chandra tested positive for COVID-19 after being careful in interactions with others and wearing a mask, but that is just among the many questions he has.

Johnson revealed Friday that he had tested positive after his wife had tested positive. Both of their children tested negative.

The seven-time Cup champion will miss Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App). It will be the first time in his career he will have missed a scheduled Cup start. Justin Allgaier will drive the No. 48 for Johnson.

When Johnson returns is uncertain. He must have two negative tests more than 24 hours apart and have a doctor’s release.

Johnson, who is in Aspen, Colorado, talked with the media Saturday morning. Here are details of the conversation:

WHAT WAS THE TIMELINE FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON AND WIFE CHANDRA ON TESTING POSITIVE?

His wife had some allergy-like symptoms earlier in the week and Johnson said that “being the rule follower and the ever-cautious individual she is, she felt she needed to go to the local hospital here in Colorado and have a test done just to be responsible and do her part and then we waited on her test results, which took a couple of days and those came in (Friday) morning at 9 o’clock (Mountain Time). From that point on, we were just dealing with the issues at hand and trying to understand if I was positive. I was lucky to get in and be tested and get a quick result for myself and my children.”

Johnson said that his wife tested positive on Wednesday (July 1)

WHAT IS THE FAMILY’S STATUS?

Johnson and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19.

Both their children have tested NEGATIVE.

WHAT SYMPTOMS DOES JOHNSON HAVE?

He is asymptotic … They don’t know how many days he was positive before the test.

HOW DID HE GET THE VIRUS?

Johnson: “I have more questions, honestly, than I do answers at this point. I don’t think you can be careful enough. Clearly we weren’t. With our best intent we ended up positive somehow. We’re unclear how we ended up positive.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JOHNSON AND WHEN MIGHT HE RETURN TO RACING?

Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports said this is what Johnson needs to have done before returning to the track:

— Two negative tests with a minimum of 24 hours between those tests followed by a doctor’s release.

JOHNSON SAID HE PREVIOUSLY DID AN ANTIBODY TEST AND TESTED POSITIVE.

Johnson: “Earlier this year, early into lockdown when I found out there was a semi-reliable antibody test, I did take that. I did test costive for the antibodies. There was a big gap in the rate of being positive … success rate or whatever it might be. … (he was positive and his wife was not)

“We didn’t know how much to trust the antibody test. … I was warned by my physician then although I did test positive for antibodies, there was a 20% chance rate of being incorrect.”

HOW IS JOHNSON DOING EMOTIONALLY?

Johnson: “Thankfully, I am asymptomatic. We don’t know how many days in that I am right now so there is some concern that my conditions could worsen. I literally have had zero symptoms. … I feel great.

“I think our biggest concern right now is for our children. They are negative as of (Friday) . We are being very responsible in our home to self isolate but at the same time we have to parent. That’s really the tricky hurdle we’re trying to sort out right now on top of managing their fears. … For a 9- and a  6-year old, trying to manage the fear right now, they can’t come around mom and dad. We’ve got to feed them. We’re concerned feeding them and passing them the virus. … On the homefront with our kids, we’re heartbroken right now to see the fear in their eyes and watching them try to manage what is going on right now.”

JOHNSON’S RECENT TRAVELS (other than Cup races)

— Has been in Aspen, Colorado the last few weeks.

— Said they went back to Charlotte about 8-10 days ago

— Was in Indianapolis on July 2 at Dallara to drive their simulator to prepare for July 8 IndyCar test.

— Was preparing to head to Indy on Sunday morning

— He has been at Chip Ganassi Racing for a seat fitting for IndyCar test within the past 14 days.

BACKUP PLAN

— Crew chief Cliff Daniels said that Justin Allgaier had been set as the team’s backup driver since the season resumed in May.

WHAT ABOUT JOHNSON’S HOPES TO TEST AN INDYCAR?

Johnson: “That IndyCar test will be there. Hopefully I’m cleared soon and can get back to the track. To get in the 48 car is my first priority of course. … As long as I’m healthy and the world stays open, I really believe there will be that (IndyCar) opportunity. IndyCar has a high priority to help with driver development. So with the interest I have from teams and the relationships and friendships I have in various teams, I do feel that opportunity will be there later in the year.”

NASCAR disqualifies Jimmie Johnson’s car after it fails inspection

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NASCAR announced that Jimmie Johnson‘s car failed inspection after his runner-up finish and he was disqualified.

Jay Fabian, Cup Series managing director, said Johnson’s car failed post-race alignment.

“The failure was rear alignment,” Fabian said. “It’s the same thing we check on at least a handful of cars … after every event.”

The team decided Monday not to appeal the penalty.

Asked about consideration of a broken part, Fabian said: “The allowance is built in for parts that move. There is an allowance for that. If parts break, the number is the number. There is no real parameter outside of that. There have been parts in the past that have been designed to fail or break. Certainly not suggesting that is the case here, but that’s what’s gotten us to this hard line and this is the post-race number and there is a fair tolerance from pre-race numbers to post.”

Johnson is now listed as finishing 40th. He’ll also start there for Wednesday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the results from the Coca-Cola 600 setting the starting lineup for that race.

Winners and losers from Darlington

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WINNERS

Kevin Harvick While the celebration was muted because of no fans and social distancing guidelines, Harvick scored his first win of the season and 50th of his career on Sunday

Alex BowmanRunner-up finish shows how strong this Hendrick Motorsports team is. After his dominating weekend and win at Auto Club Speedway, he was viewed as among the favorites at Darlington and showed that the break in the season had not slowed his team.

Matt KensethIn his first Cup start since the 2018 season finale, he went out and finished 10th. Also, his trademark dry wit was on display in some of his radio conversations with his team. It’s just like he never left.

Ryan Preece Normally a 20th-place finish doesn’t put you in this category, but it does this time. Preece passed Bubba Wallace for 20th with three laps to go. That’s significant because the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s race will be inverted. So Preece starts on the pole Wednesday night at Darlington. Wallace, who finished 21st, will start 21st on Wednesday.

Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Nemechek Cup rookies are supposed to struggle at Darlington. Even though both had never run a lap at speed in a Cup car at Darlington before Sunday’s green flag, they both finished in the top 10. Reddick placed seventh; Nemechek ninth. Those were season-high finishes for both.

LOSERS

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Seven drivers had never run a lap at speed in a Cup car at Darlington. Stenhouse was making his eighth career Cup start at the track. He was the one to wreck on the first lap. “Pretty embarrassing for myself,” he said.

Jimmie JohnsonOn the verge of his first stage win of the season, he made contact with Chris Buescher’s car and wrecked. “What I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” he said. Johnson is now winless in his last 100 Cup starts. Crew chief Cliff Daniels immediately reminded the team not to get down after the incident. We’ve got a great race car,” Daniels said on the radio to his team. “So don’t you get down. We’ll be back in 2 days.”

Jimmie Johnson wrecks while leading at end of Stage 1

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Jimmie Johnson was half a lap from winning the first stage of Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington when he was eliminated in a crash on the backstretch.

Johnson was attempting to pass Chris Buescher out of Turn 2 when he made contact with the left-rear fender of Buescher’s car.

The contact sent Johnson into a slide that ended when he hit the inside wall.

Johnson had taken the lead just a few laps before when he passed teammate Alex Bowman.

“Gosh, what I would do to get that corner back to do it over again,” Johnson told Fox. “Coming to the end of the stage, just trying to make sure I got a good run coming off Turn 2, I felt like I was going to be able to exit the corner side-by-side with him then things just went horribly wrong there.”

William Byron took the stage win. He then wrecked on his own on Lap 109 in Stage 2.

Johnson will have to start from the back of the field for Wednesday’s race at Darlington. Drivers that finish from 21st to 40th in today’s race will start in that same spot Wednesday.

Friday 5: Will iRacing grudges carry over to track?

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It was supposed to be fun, but some of the hostilities between drivers during the Pro Invitational iRacing series could carry over to the track, some competitors say.

“I really, truly think a lot of these drivers, myself included, are going to be carrying grudges from the iRacing world over into the real world,” Tyler Reddick told NBC Sports. “I really do.

“I may just be the one crazy one, but how I’ve been raced on iRacing and unfortunately, probably not always on purpose, how I’ve raced others, is probably going to carry over as well. That’s just something you’ve got to think about.”

That virtual racing could elicit such feelings from drivers might surprise some.

Maybe it shouldn’t.

“We’re all very competitive,” Reddick said of the drivers. “Whenever we feel like someone does something wrong to us, it sticks with you, regardless of if it was on the highway or if it was in the grocery store or the parking lot.”

After a 71-day break due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cup drivers are back on track Sunday at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX). They’ll have no practice or qualifying. Their first lap at speed will be when the green flag waves. And fuel some of those restless drivers with memories of what others did to them in virtual racing the past two months. Then see what happens.

Every time a driver competes against another, whether in the virtual or real world, they add to their notes on that foe. Each slight is catalogued for potential payback.    

Ryan Preece wrecks Matt DiBenedetto during the Pro Invitational Series iRacing event at virtual Richmond Raceway in April. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“It could be another thing in your notebook that you carry over and remember about this guy like that,” Matt DiBenedetto told NBC Sports on what could carry over from iRacing. “Like Ryan Preece and I. You’re not going to go crash each other, and we joked a little bit about it after. But it’s also like, man, I’ve been frustrated with him a couple of times on track before, maybe not using his brain like I think he should have. And then that’s another note in the notebook when you’re racing around him.”

During the iRacing race at virtual Richmond Raceway in April, DiBenedetto and Ryan Preece had contact that wrecked Preece. He returned the favor. DiBenedetto retaliated. iRacing officials parked DiBenedetto.

Matt DiBenedetto wrecks Ryan Preece in retaliation for an earlier incident at virtual Richmond Raceway in April. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

That isn’t the only iRacing incident that quickly comes to mind for DiBenedetto that is bothersome.

“At (virtual) Dover at the last race, just trying to be smart, and I checked up for a couple of guys in front of me, Jimmie (Johnson) and Kurt (Busch),” DiBenedetto said. “They got stacked up a little, so I check up some and Ross Chastain is behind me. He tries to use it as an opportunity to dive under me. He drives right through me and crashed me.

“Well, again, that’s another one in the notebook. Everybody knows that Ross is insanely aggressive, has a bunch of talent but still has some things to learn as far as patience.

“From iRacing to that, yes, it can still put things down in your notebook that you remember about that guy. It was funny to see that some of those guys, for example Ross, not picking on him, he’s a talented guy, but those characteristics were the same on iRacing as in real life.

“Then you would have Kevin Harvick that was out there being very smart and giving room and all that. I’m like yep, that’s Kevin. You could see that Kevin may not be as experienced in iRacing, but he was the same as in real life, giving some room and being real smart about what he was doing and not trying to crash people.”

But not every driver thinks what happened in iRacing will make an impact on the track.

“iRacing it’s not real,” Christopher Bell told NBC Sports. “It’s not real money going into the cars. It’s not real resources going into the car. At least from my end, nothing from that will carry over.”

What about other drivers?

“I would hope not,” he said.

2.  Heated discussions during a pandemic

After 400 miles Sunday at Darlington, some drivers will be upset with fellow competitors.

In normal times, a driver might seek another on pit road to apologize to them. Or confront them.

Some discussions end peacefully. Others escalate, as happened last October between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville. In some cases, not much is said before drivers tussle, as Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick did after last October’s Xfinity race at Kansas. In rare cases, no words are spoken. Only a punch is thrown, as Kyle Busch did to Logano after the 2017 Las Vegas race.

But with social distancing guidelines, what is the protocol for drivers in such matters after a race?

Will they stand 6 feet away and yell at each other? Will they stand much closer to argue and risk being fined as much as $50,000 for violating NASCAR’s COVID-19 guidelines? Or do they go back to their motorhome and text each other?

“I don’t think you really know until that moment happens,” Brad Keselowski told NBC Sports.

Matt DiBenedetto knows what he’d prefer to do.

“I’ve always been the guy to where I want to talk to that guy right now as soon as I get out of my race car and settle this immediately — and it’s not necessarily about any physical harm or anything,” he said. “I want to talk to this guy face-to-face right now and let him know that, hey, I mean business and I’m not going to tolerate this. I’ve always been a very stern guy. I try to give respect to everybody, and you want to get that respect as well.

“That (post-race scenario on pit road now) will actually be a weird one. I thought about that, if I want to address something with somebody. I don’t like doing it over texts. I only like face-to-face conversations because in a text message, things can get misconstrued.”

Denny Hamlin has a possible solution to having an issue with another driver.

“Meet them at the exit,” he joked.

“That’s the only thing I can think of. I don’t know. I actually thought about that, as well. If there’s ever a time to be aggressive, probably ruffle some feathers, this is probably the time to do it because you don’t have to face consequences right after the race.”

3. “Epic race”

Drivers have raced without practicing or qualifying before. It last happened at Indianapolis in 2018.

But that race can’t compare to the challenges drivers will face Sunday at Darlington after a 10-week layoff and temperatures expected to be near 90 degrees.

“It’s going to be a daunting challenge this week,” said Brad Keselowski, who won that 2018 Indy race and starts Sunday’s race on the pole. “There’s no doubt about it. I think it’s an opportunity for a team to rise to the top, so I’m cool with it.

“It’s going to be incredibly hot. South Carolina is another level of hot. I don’t know why South Carolina hot is hotter than hot everywhere else, but it just is.

“Then you’ve got the racetrack, one of the faster racetracks on the circuit. You’re right up against the wall, very little room for error. You have tires that wear out a lot. You get late in a run and you’re really sliding around, a huge opportunity to make a mistake. You’ve (also) got all the downtime for the drivers (since the last race). Perhaps even more dangerous than that is a lot of time spent on simulators, so an abundance of overconfidence, which always causes issues.

“No practice. No rubber on the track. You have an entire list here of reasons why this race (could) be a calamity. A lot of pressure in this race. You want to get back going and have a great race. There’s going to be a lot of eyes on this race, so you expect the pressures that come with that. This is going to be an epic race. There’s no way around that. That’s what NASCAR needs, an epic race.”

Add to the list of issues for drivers Sunday is that with no practice, they won’t have a chance to practice entering pit road. Darlington’s pit road entry is tricky. Keselowski missed pit road while running seventh in last year’s race. Ryan Blaney missed pit road in the 2017 race there after hitting the wall. Denny Hamlin missed pit road while leading the 2017 race with 54 laps to go and rallied to win.

Even though Sunday’s race is 400 miles instead of the typical 500 miles at Darlington, there’s a likelihood of multiple green-flag pit stops. With the way tires wear, as soon as one prominent car pits for tires, it will drag the rest of the field to pit road for fresh tires. That can bring trouble.

“Darlington, in my opinion, is the most challenging pit road entry of the entire year,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I think of all things, that might be one of the most nerve-racking parts of the race. Doing that cold turkey is a lot harder than just firing off for the green flag and racing.”

So what makes Darlington’s pit road entry so hard?

“Pit road entry there is so far down the racetrack,” DiBenedetto said.  “So you enter the corner and you’re on the racetrack and you start slowing down. It feels like you have to park just to hang a really, really hard left and go way down across the apron where you can’t even see. You’re on the racetrack and you can’t even see the pit road entry. You’re going by more of marks on the racetrack.”

4. Picking teams

With NASCAR limiting the number of team members for upcoming races, crew chiefs and competition directors had to decide who will go to Darlington this weekend and who stays behind.

Typically, teams have 10 road crew members, which includes the crew chief and spotter.

NASCAR now limits teams to six road crew members, including the crew chief and spotter. So that left four spots. Nearly every team brought its car chief, leaving three spots.

Top teams each have two engineers. What to do with those engineers was a point of debate for some teams.

“We have deliberated on this quite extensively,” Kevin Kidd, competition director at Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports.

Each of Roush’s two teams will take only one engineer to the track.

“The job on the pit box is a pretty busy one,” Kidd said. “To really just rely on the crew chief and quite frankly to have the bandwidth to process everything that you need to process live and in real time is probably asking too much. Can you support things from home and can you do things? Yes. And we will. … We feel like an engineer to assist the crew chief is a critical part of the race.”

Each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams will have one of its engineers at the track.

“I feel honestly, that the preparation at the shop is what’s going to really be the key,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for William Byron. “So, we wanted to keep a good, strong, staff of mechanics at the shop with good and recent racetrack experience to try to make sure that when we unload the race car that we’re absolutely race ready.”

None of Joe Gibbs Racing’s teams will have an engineer at the track Sunday.

Crew chief Chris Gayle, who helped lead Erik Jones to the Southern 500 win at Darlington last year, said he wanted an extra mechanic at the track over an engineer.

“I wanted to make sure that I had enough (mechanics) so that if we had damage, we had the correct people who could work on things,” Gayle told NBC Sports. “I didn’t want to sacrifice that. … It pretty much left you where you didn’t have too many options.”

5. So many unknowns

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I asked several competitors what they were curious about Sunday, whether it was on the track or off the track. Here’s what some said:

Kevin Harvick: “I think with all the meetings that I’ve been a part of at home and iRacing and the way that the teams are functioning, there’s going to be some things that come out of this situation that are permanent and what those things are will start this weekend. I don’t really know what it is or what they will be, but I think this weekend will be the start of a process that you kind of have to look around and say: ‘You know what? That wasn’t a bad idea. We did it out of necessity to go in this racetrack and race and put on a show, but is that something we can carry forward?’ And I think that question is going to be asked a lot as we do things going forward.”

Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson: “What I’m really curious to see is going to be the evolution of any given competitor throughout the race. … It’s going to be really curious if you see somebody unloads and is blazing fast for the opening run, the track takes rubber, things evolve and change for the behavior of the track. Maybe they don’t keep up with it as well. Does that same guy that is blazing fast end up 12th? Or do you have somebody that barely struggles to stay on the lead lap by the end of the first stage? Do they come in and make an extended pit stop … and then they end up third. That’s what I’m curious to see. … Given that we don’t have practice and given that there’s no qualifying and we don’t have time to really tune to the track for the given weekend, I’m curious to see that. That’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”

Cole Custer: “That first lap will be interesting to see how aggressive everybody will be. I think how the team, all of us kind of work together to get prepared for the race. Those are really the only two things. I think for me, I’ve been trying to just focus on what I’m preparing myself for, and I don’t really worry about everything else.”

Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie: “I’m curious who is going to be the first person to take their mask off and get a $10,000 fine. I pray that it’s nobody on our race team. It’s a new normal. It’s going to be a pain in the butt when you have a mask on your face and its 80 degrees and you’re trying to talk on the radio and it’s muffled. It’s going to take some getting used to, following NASCAR’s guidelines. We want to keep everybody safe. We don’t want to get anybody sick or anything like that. … I’m curious to see how everything is going to go, non-racing, everything affected by COVID-19. I think NASCAR has got a pretty good plan to get us in and out of there. It’s going to be interesting once you get there and see how it works.”

John Hunter Nemechek: “I’m curious about the viewership that we’re going to have. … I’m just kind of curious about the whole weekend, how it flows, how the racing goes.”

Brad Keselowski: “I think there are two things that really stand out me. One, the 88 car (of Alex Bowman) has been the best car on a mile-and-a-half (tracks). It left California as the fastest. It was probably the car that should have won Las Vegas. I’m curious if they have that speed (this weekend). I’m curious because I entered the season effectively with a new team, and we finished California with a top-five car and had a long list of areas that we thought we could to improve. I’m curious if we do just that this weekend at Darlington and find that level of speed like the 88 car had.”

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