CONCORD, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson is back in his No. 48 Chevrolet this weekend a little more than a week after testing positive for COVID-19.
The positive test, which came on July 3, forced Johnson to sit out last Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Justin Allgaier drove Johnson’s car at Indianapolis, but a wreck on pit lane ended his race early.
Fast-forward to Wednesday and the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who is in his final full-time season, was cleared to return to competition Sunday at Kentucky Speedway after testing negative twice and being cleared by his doctor.
The driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports admitted it’s been an “interesting” week since the initial positive test.
“Obviously an interesting week or so,” Johnson said during a Zoom teleconference with media Friday. “To have the positive test and then the two negative tests, just the emotional journey you go through worrying about your safety, your family’s safety, watching a race with somebody else in your race car and the emotions that go with that. Coming to grips with the reality of all that has been challenging.
“I’ve always subscribed to growing through these tough moments and I feel like I’m a smarter, stronger person today after experiencing all of this. Clearly extremely happy to be reinstated and ready to get back with my race team and back with my race car.”
Johnson said he never experienced COVID-19 symptoms and declined to speculate about if he had the virus or if his initial test was simply a false positive.
“There are a lot of scenarios that could play out, probably three or four scenarios that could play out, and to go through them and try to form an opinion would just be speculating and at this point I don’t think that’s very intelligent or smart to do,” Johnson said.
The 44-year-old driver admits he’d love to have answers regarding the positive test and if he even had COVID-19. The situation has left him frustrated.
“It brings a lot of questions as to where I was in the journey of being positive and all of that,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of speculation there. I don’t know those answers and believe me, I’m the most frustrated person out there, especially living in a world of facts that we do. To not have the facts drives me bananas, but I have followed protocol and I’ve been reinstated. That’s about all I can speak to at this point.”
Johnson admitted to being angry after his first negative COVID-19 test earlier this week, but said that quickly changed to excitement.
“I would say my first response, though, was just anger,” Johnson explained. “I mean I started cussing and used every cuss word that I knew of and then I think I invented a few new ones. It was just so weird, the anger, because I’ve been asymptomatic. So, the anger hits, the speculation in my mind. And then it’s like wait a second, there’s nothing good to come of this. No one knows, I don’t know, so it’s just time to move on. And then I got very excited, started looking at the facts that I’ve only missed one race, I still have a good gap above the cutline and then the optimism about I hope I get that second negative, and then I did.
“So, I feel like I’m more on the optimistic side of things and really out of the dark headspace that I was in, and just moving in the right direction and looking forward in all of this.”
The positive COVID-19 test delayed Johnson’s plans to test an Indy car, which he was scheduled to do July 8 with Chip Ganassi Racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. The COVID-19 pandemic previously canceled a scheduled test with the Arrow McLaren SP team on April 6.
Johnson said he is working to reschedule his planned Indy car test as he looks toward possibly making some starts in the NTT IndyCar Series once his full-time NASCAR career is over.
“There have been a couple of conversations and I think Ganassi and IndyCar are eager to have that experience to get me in a car and get me tested,” Johnson said. “Everybody is giving everything a little time to breathe right now and maybe identify the next possible date that works for IndyCar and works for Ganassi. And I’m clearly hopeful to get a test with McLaren as I was trying to work on back in April. That went away because of the lockdown. So, I think that’s all to come. It’s hard to say anything’s really taking place just yet, but I know I’m eager and I know everybody involved is eager for that to take place.”