Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be piloted by Justin Allgaier this weekend at Indianapolis.
NASCAR has confirmed that Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson has tested positive for COVID-19. The seven-time Cup Series champion will not race at Sunday’s event, the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET, NBC). His No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be driven by Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier.
According to a release from NASCAR, Johnson notified NASCAR of his positive test. Another statement from HMS revealed that Johnson was tested after his wife Chandra had “tested positive after experiencing allergy-like symptoms”. A member of Hendrick’s No. 48 travel crew will also self-quarantine due to, as the latter release reads, “close contact with the driver”.
“NASCAR has outlined the steps for Johnson’s return,” the former statement reads. “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.”
“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson said in the HMS release. “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.”
NASCAR and its three national series have returned in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after a two-month hiatus. Races have been run without practice or qualifying, turning race weekends into single-day endeavors. Social distancing measures have been maintained with press conferences being held virtually over Zoom and only essential personnel has been admitted to the track. Fans have not been admitted to a majority of events, but the showings at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway admitted a select number of spectators. NASCAR is expected to welcome in 30,000 fans to Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15 for the annual All-Star Race exhibition.
Johnson, 44, has spent his entire career in the No. 48 and has appeared in 663 consecutive Cup Series races. His seven titles are tied for most in series history alongside Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and he leads all active drivers with 83 Cup wins (tied for fifth all-time with Cale Yarborough). Shortly after the end of the 2019 season, the first time he missed the NASCAR postseason, Johnson announced that 2020 would be his final year as a full-time racer.
NASCAR has also clarified that Johnson will be eligible for a waiver to reach the NASCAR playoffs if and when he returns. Playoff rules dictate that a driver must partake in all 26 regular season races to be eligible for a spot, but has granted such waivers for extenuating circumstances. Previous 2020 examples include Ryan Newman (who missed three races due to injury) and Matt Kenseth (who took over Chip Gannasi’s No. 42 Chevrolet after four races for the fired Kyle Larson). Johnson is currently in the playoffs in the 12th slot, 63 points ahead of 17th-place Austin Dillon, the first driver out.
Johnson’s replacement will be Allgaier, who currently sits seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings. He drives the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the latter’s sister Kelley. Allgaier, 34, has finished the no worse than seventh in the Xfinity Series in each of the past nine seasons and drove two full years (2014-15) at the Cup Series level in the No. 51 Chevrolet for now-defunct HScott Motorsports.
Allgaier will run both the Cup and Xfinity races. The former, the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard, will be held on Saturday on Indianapolis’ road course (3 p.m. ET, NBC). Allgaier will start fifth on the road course, but will likely have to move to the end of Sunday’s field due to a driver change. Starting positions have been determined by random draw in lieu of qualifying.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags