No one who knows him should be surprised that Jimmie Johnson isn’t thinking about himself. Johnson tested positive for the COVID-19 virus Friday becoming the first NASCAR driver to do so. In his final full-time season Johnson will now miss his final chance to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday. But that wasn’t top of his mind Saturday morning when he met with the media via a Zoom conference.
Johnson said he and his family had retreated to their home in Colorado early on in order to better isolate themselves. He said his wife, Chandra, displayed allergy-like symptoms earlier in the week, which prompted her to visit a local hospital for testing. Her results came back positive, so Friday morning Johnson and his two daughters aged 6 and 9 immediately went and tested. Johnson was positive, his children came back negative.
“Of course, we’re being very responsible in our home and trying to self-isolate,” Johnson said. “But at the same time, we have to parent, and that’s really the tricky hurdle we’re trying to sort out right now, on top of managing their fears.”
“Thankfully we’re healthy and hope to stay that way, but for a nine and a six-year-old, to try to manage the fear right now and they can’t come around mom or dad. You know, we’ve got to feed them, and we’re concerned about feeding them and passing the virus. We’re trying to be as healthy as we can, but on the home front with our kids, we’re heartbroken right now to see the fear in their eyes and watching them try to manage what’s going on right now.”
He said he isn’t sure where he could have been exposed to the virus, or if he was the one who infected his wife, or the other way around. He is glad however his wife was tested.
“If it wasn’t for Chani’s diligence on trying to do the right thing at all times, we would be going on with life as normal,” he said. “And who knows who we could have come in contact with and the repercussions that could have had. I know our country and the world right now is over quarantine and over these technicalities that we need to deal with, but as a family that’s been very safe and very cautious to end up testing positive just shows how diligent you truly need to be through all this.”
Johnson also revealed he had been tested a few months ago.
“Earlier this year, early into lockdown when I found out there was a semi-reliable antibody test, I did take that.,” he said. “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.”
In that test, he was positive, his wife was not.
“We didn’t know how much to trust the antibody test,” he added. “I was warned by my physician then although I did test positive for antibodies, there was a 20% chance rate of being incorrect.”
Not only was Johnson due to make his final Indianapolis appearance as a fulltime NASCAR driver Sunday and will end a streak of 663 Cup Series starts, he was scheduled to conduct an IndyCar test on the road course next week. For the near future at least, racing anything testing or otherwise is off the table.
“That IndyCar test will be there,” Johnson said. “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 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.”
Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier will drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 in his place Sunday and Johnson will not return to competition until receiving two negative test results at least 24 hours apart, plus clearance by a physician.
With all the postponements this season, Johnson has been forced to miss a lot of “lasts” such as his last chance to win at Indy. None of that has changed his plans to step away from fulltime NASCAR competition next season.
“I had to inform Hendrick Motorsports that I do plan to not be in the car full-time, so they have to plan and do what they need to for the future, but I’m hopeful that I can have an opportunity to come back and run a Hendrick Cup car in some races,” Johnson said. “Clearly, I have this interest in IndyCar, sports car, and many other forms of racing, so I assume that’s helping me deal with this and not feel like I’m having some things taken away from me, but at the end of the day, thankful I’m healthy and not in the shape some people are in dealing with this.”
“I’m trying really hard to not be disappointed in the professional side or maybe some of these more selfish things I’m going to miss out on and be thankful that I’m healthy and my family is healthy.”
And that is now Johnson’s focus. Not on himself and what he is missing, but what others are going through, and using his voice to help others.
“I can be down and out on my situation, but if I turn on the news and see how this virus has impacted so many others, I quickly feel thankful that I’m asymptomatic and I don’t have any major issues,” Johnson said. “It’d be very easy right now to get bummed out and look at this the wrong way, but I’m healthy, my wife is healthy, my kids are. My prayers are that it stays that way. We’re hopeful that through our situation that maybe some others can learn from this as well.”