Jeff Andrews

Jimmie Johnson uncertain how he got COVID-19

Leave a comment

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.”

Hendrick focused on Jimmie Johnson’s success, not successor

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney. Erik Jones.

No, we’re not talking about this week’s fantasy racing picks, but those four drivers have been among drivers mentioned most often when it comes time for Hendrick Motorsports to name a replacement for Jimmie Johnson, who will retire after this season.

Yet even though filling Johnson’s spot is important, it’s not as much a priority right now as it is for the entire organization to learn more about the nuances of the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, according to HMS vice president of competition Jeff Andrews.

“We don’t have a timetable for that, to be honest with you,” Andrews said of naming a replacement for Johnson on Wednesday “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our focus has been getting better race cars under Jimmie Johnson and getting better race cars for (crew chief) Cliff Daniels and his race team to work with on the weekend.

“The focus right now immediately for the 48 is to get a win, get that car in the playoffs, get multiple wins through the season and then get Jimmie Johnson to Phoenix at the end of the year to battle for that championship.”

Andrews admits the vibe around Hendrick Motorsports’ campus is markedly different this year, knowing it’s Johnson’s final season in the No. 48.

“I think the sense is pride here within Hendrick Motorsports, to just have been associated with someone like Jimmie,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “For those of us who have been here really throughout his career, we’re just incredibly proud that he chose to drive for Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole career.

“But we’re also proud of all his accomplishments and what he’s done for this company. I think we would have an awful hard time of ever paying him back for all that. Our goal this year is giving him everything he needs for a multiple win season and to get to Phoenix. We owe him that at the least.”

The Hendrick organization has struggled in adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro body style this year. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Chase Elliott (finished seventh) was the only HMS driver in the top 15.

Things were a bit better this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Johnson was the highest-finishing HMS driver (fifth), while Alex Bowman was 13th. But there was considerable sense of accomplishment overall for Chevrolet as a whole, with six of its Camaros in the top 10 (as opposed to only two Chevys in the top 10 at Daytona).

That leaves Andrews, the competition department at HMS and Chevrolet officials as a whole feeling optimistic as the series heads for the third race of the season this weekend at the two-mile track in Fontana, California.

“From a barometer perspective, we’re feeling good about where we’ve been,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had that finish, that win that we’re looking for, but certainly we’ve started off the year with some good speed in our cars.

“The one thing that all of our drivers were commenting on is we had more speed in our cars and just had a better platform in our cars and a better ability to run multiple lines on the racetrack, which is something we haven’t in recent years.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for Hendrick drivers over the last three seasons. Since Johnson’s seventh Cup championship in 2016, no HMS driver has reached the Championship 4 round since.

Also during that time frame, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 overall in the last three seasons (Chase Elliott, fifth in 2017, sixth in 2018 and 10th in 2019; and Johnson, 10th in 2017).

These next five races, particularly the last two of that stretch at Homestead-Miami and Texas, will help give Andrews and his staff a better handle on where their adjustment to the Camaro goes from there.

“We know it’s a long season and have a long ways to go with this,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “We need to get through three or four more races.

“I think we’ve targeted as a company a better understanding of where we’re at after the Homestead/Texas timeframe to get some types of tracks and learn with this new car.

“Steep learning curve with the new car and we’ve got to act quick. We have just a year to work with this before we get to another generation of race cars. … We’re looking forward to going back to the track this weekend in Fontana and see where we go with it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Playoff hopes for all three Hendrick Motorsports teams take big hit

1 Comment

TALLADEGA, Ala. — A weekend that started with its cars starting at the front ended in disappointment for Hendrick Motorsports’ three playoff teams and left each essentially in a must-win situation next weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Ryan Blaney’s win at Talladega Superspeedway ended a miserable Monday for Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman, who each face playoff elimination next weekend.

Blaney’s victory assures him a spot in the next round, joining Kyle Larson, who won last weekend at Dover.

Bowman, Elliott and Byron — along with Clint Bowyer — are all outside the cutoff spot. Bowman is 18 points behind Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points and Byron is 27 points behind Logano.

While anything is possible, it will be difficult for any of the Hendrick cars to outpoint Logano for the final spot at Kansas.

“We’ve got three cars that really need to win to get in,” Jeff Andrews, director of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “I think the points thing right now is kind of irrelevant. The focus is to win.”

Should all three Hendrick cars fail to advance after next weekend’s race, it would leave Chevrolet one driver left (Larson) in championship contention.

That’s why there was so much posturing by Chevrolet this weekend, including its meeting with drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors after the race had been stopped Sunday because of rain. While teams within each manufacturer know to work with each other whenever possible, Chevrolet’s focus was on trying to help its three playoff cars advance.

Instead, they all face long odds.

Alex Bowman’s race ended when he triggered an 11-car crash by blocking Logano two laps from the end of the second stage.

“I just misjudged how much of a run (Logano) had there,” Bowman said. “That’s on me. These cars are tough to see out of and I didn’t do a good job of it. Probably shouldn’t have attempted to block that.”

Bowman finished 37th.

As for his plan at Kansas?

“We’re just going to go lead the most laps, win both stages and win the race,” Bowman said.

Byron was next to exit Monday, eliminated when he was hit from behind by Kurt Busch. Byron finished 33rd.

“It was just cars everywhere, drafting at 200 mph,” Busch said.

Byron said the contact was an “accordion effect (after) I had kind of lost momentum for whatever reason.”

While Elliott finished eighth, his car was damaged in the crash triggered by Bowman’s block of Logano. Elliott also failed to score any stage points.

“Just a train wreck,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said of the team’s day. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”

There really wasn’t much to say for Hendrick’s drivers except they need to win now.

Bubba Wallace on if things are over with Alex Bowman: ‘We’ll see’

5 Comments

DOVER, Del. — Bubba Wallace says he regrets that others were splashed by liquid he sprayed at Alex Bowman but did not regret doing it to Bowman.

Wallace said Saturday at Dover International Speedway that he apologized to Jeff Gordon and Dr. Angela Fiege, medical director of the AMR NASCAR Safety team and reached out to Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Andrews, who also was splashed.

Asked if things are over with Bowman, Wallace said: “We’ll see. He’s already on six strikes.”

Wallace expressed frustration with Bowman for incidents the past two weekends at Richmond and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

“It’s the same thing as Richmond,” Wallace said of Bowman. “He ran over me as soon as he got to me at Richmond and got underneath me, this is the next time, he got underneath me and ran me up the race track, so I was ‘OK, he’s getting wrecked here, if he ever gets by me, he’s getting wrecked. In the fence.  Done.’

“We ended up beating him. I was, ‘Alright, that’s the higher road.’ It was over with. It was done.”

Until the opening lap of the race at the Roval the next week.

“(Then) Lap 1 of the new configuration of the Roval, after we had all sat there and watched the Xfinity race and watched a car come through from 15 cars back and wad up about six of them, it’s like ‘Alright, we’re the Cup level, let’s take it easy this first lap and just get through there,’ ” Wallace said. “What do you know? (Bowman) runs over (Austin Dillon) and me. Shoves me through the chicane, gives me a penalty. NASCAR and I talked about that. We’re on clear terms on why we got the penalty.

“It’s Lap 1. Come on. It’s a new configuration. Everybody knows how treacherous it is and he runs over us. So there’s no excuse for that. I believe he was the only car to run over somebody there on Lap 1. All of us except for one car had the mentality of let’s take it easy, let’s figure out how this chicane is going to work on the initial start.”

Later in the race, Bowman wrecked Wallace. Bowman said after the race that he tired of seeing Wallace flip him off multiple laps, saying last week: “Probably wouldn’t have gotten wrecked if he had his finger back in the car.”

That’s not the first time Wallace’s middle finger got him in trouble this season. Daniel Suarez had a post-race disagreement with Wallace at Pocono in July after he was flipped off by Wallace. So will Wallace alter his middle-finger policy toward competitors?

“It’s still going to be the same,” Wallace said. “You know what car gets it the most is (Martin Truex Jr.). Me and him have a joke about it. We laugh about it every time. It’s one of those, like I need to stop doing it because there’s a lot of eyes on me.

“At first it was just like a joke but it’s become obviously a thing and people are getting really sensitive over a finger and wanting to retaliate and right rear somebody on the race track, which is grounds for taking your gloves off and fight.”

Truex said that the middle finger is a joke between them after a discussion they had earlier this season.

“I got close to him coming off (Turn 4) and he got sideways,” Truex said of an incident at ISM Raceway in March. “I guess he thought I hit him and flipped me off for a whole lap. I talked to him a week or two later, and said, ‘Listen man, somebody is going to get out of the car one of these days and shove that finger straight up your ass.’ ”

Even after his issues with Bowman at the Roval, Wallace said he raced Bowman clean the rest of the event.

“We got that restart and they put us up there and we started next to (Bowman), close to (Bowman) and my spotter made sure I was well aware of who was on the outside of me and I was like, let’s just get away from him here and we drove away. But after the race I had had enough of him.”

After finishing second at the Roval, Bowman climbed from his car, sat down on the ground and leaned against his car. He was being treated for dehydration and overheating when Wallace approached. After a brief conversation, Wallace splashed Bowman and those around Bowman with his drink.

Asked if Bowman said something that led to Wallace splashing him, Wallace said: “He couldn’t have said anything, I was still going to throw water on him.”

Bowman sought to defuse the situation Friday. He told the media “I don’t think we need to talk before Sunday. I think it is what it is.”

They won’t be around each other at the start of Sunday’s Cup race at Dover (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Bowman qualified 12th. Wallace qualified 26th.

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve questioned myself’ in quest to win again

2 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — In the midst of a career-long winless streak, Jimmie Johnson has questioned everything.

“You just start searching,” Johnson said, standing next to new crew chief Cliff Daniels in the Hendrick Motorsports race shop.

The seven-time champion sits outside a playoff spot with five races to go. While there have been some encouraging performances — Johnson scored pair of top-five finishes in the last month — the results show an 80-race winless streak that dates to June 2017.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Johnson said. “I also know that I’m part of the problem of why the car hasn’t had the success that it’s accustomed to having. I don’t think I’m the problem, but I know I’m a part of it and part of the solution.

So I’m all ears and always studying my teammates to try to figure out what I can do better. All ears to the staff that sits in that transporter and feeds me info. We’re all ready and hungry to get to the track.”

Jimmie Johnson is outside a playoff spot heading to Watkins Glen. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Johnson enters Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 12 points out of the final playoff spot. He’s there after finishes of 30th (Kentucky), 30th (New Hampshire) and 15th (Pocono) in the past three races.

He takes the blame for the crash at Kentucky while running in the top 10. A mechanical issue while in the top 10 ruined his race at New Hampshire. Johnson scored his first stage victory of the season at Pocono but he only gained five points on the final playoff spot.

Johnson admits he’s been honest with himself as he’s watched others celebrate victories he once did.

Am I stuck in a way that I’m not open-minded to change?” Johnson said. “Of late, I feel like I’ve probably been trying too hard and it’s very easy to try too hard.

“I’ve questioned myself. Do I talk too much? Do I overanalyze things too much? Am I confusing the engineers, the crew chief with the level of sensitivity I have in the car? At one point I felt that was a huge strength that I had. Now has it flipped? Now am I focused on too many small details and not worried about the big things? I’ve been bouncing around with various approaches on those three areas and I feel like I’m in a much better place in confidence as the year has went on.”

That confidence grows with Daniels as the crew chief. Daniels, who replaces Kevin Meendering, was one of Johnson’s race engineers from Dec. 2014-2018 before moving in-house at Hendrick Motorsports. Daniels returned to the team in June at Sonoma Raceway. Johnson said Daniels’ return created a spark that lifted the team. They both said that their previous time working together helps Daniels better understand Johnson entering this pivotal period.

Johnson has never missed NASCAR’s postseason since it debuted in 2004. He’s the only driver who can claim that. That streak is in jeopardy because of a season awash in disappointment. He’s not had more than back-to-back top-10 finishes this season.

“With five races to go, I think we would certainly be disappointed in our ourselves … if we hadn’t done everything we could possibly do at this point in time to get Jimmie and this team and (sponsor) Ally into the playoffs,” said Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, of the crew chief change coming now.

Cliff Daniels became Jimmie Johnson’s new crew chief Monday. (Photo: Hendrick Motorsports)

The result was only the second in-season crew chief change Hendrick Motorsports has made since 2010. The other in-season crew chief change made by HMS during that time was in 2017 when Darian Grubb replaced Keith Rodden as Kasey Kahne’s crew chief with nine races left in the 2017 season.

With the challenges Johnson has faced and will face in the coming weeks, Daniels says that Johnson’s “fire is so intense right now.”

“If you look at the last four or five weeks, we have been top 10 or better contenders every time. Is that where we want to be? Absolutely not. We don’t just have expectations, we have the highest expectations on the 48. So just being a top 10 team isn’t good enough.”

Daniels’ elevation is part of the next stage for Johnson, who is in his first Cup season without having Chad Knaus as his crew chief. While Meendering is no longer Johnson’s crew chief, he played a valuable role to the driver.

“I think this year in working with Kevin and his support and the way he’s believed in me as a driver has been very helpful to my confidence,” Johnson said. “At the end of last year, the drought we’ve had, the fighting that Chad and I went through and all of that, it took a toll on me. Kevin did a really nice job of building me up this year and really helping me recognize the job I’m doing behind the wheel. I feel that I’m on my game and really doing a respectable job there.”

Johnson seeks to do more in strengthening the team as its leader.

“I’m learning a lot about team dynamics especially over the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “It’s been a responsibility that Chad always had in the past. Since we went our separate ways I’ve had much more of a role in that.

“You never know if things are truly going to work especially when you start from ground zero with somebody new. But I think intensity is a piece of it. I’d say the most important thing is the ability to communicate and that’s one thing that stood out so much when (Daniels and I) started working together at Sonoma was the level of communication. I think personalities can be different if you share that common drive and intensity and can talk about it. Just in life, right? Communication is everything and that’s really the piece that I’m most focused on.”

Daniels’ focus is on getting Johnson to the playoffs. Off the track, Daniels and his wife will welcome their first child, due in less than two weeks. Johnson said airplanes will be ready to take Daniels back to North Carolina if he is at the track when his wife goes into labor. Should Daniels leave the track, Hendrick Motorsports has a number of former crew chiefs who could take over that role for a day or so if needed, including Grubb, who is the organization’s technical director.

With the crew chief change, Johnson notes that Meendering  “didn’t do anything wrong at all.

“We’re still growing and learning each other, but we have to act now is the bottom line. We don’t have any time to waste. The history that Cliff and I have, I know that we’re going to come to the track and really be able to up our game.”

 and on Facebook