Jimmie Johnson will only miss one race because of the coronavirus.
Hendrick Motorsports said Wednesday that Johnson had been cleared to return to NASCAR after he tested negative for COVID-19 on both Monday and Tuesday and had received clearance from a physician.
“My family is so grateful for the incredible love and support we’ve received over the last several days,” Johnson said in a team statement. “I especially want to thank Justin Allgaier for stepping in for me at Indy and being a true pro. I’m excited about getting back to business with my team this weekend.”
Johnson’s quick return is surprising. And it raises a lot of questions that even he may not be able to answer on Friday when he hosts a news conference to discuss his comeback to racing.
NASCAR is not testing drivers or team members for coronavirus when they enter the track on race weekends. Instead, track workers are screening everyone who enters for a fever and all race participants must fill out a waiver. That waiver asks if a person at the track has knowingly been near someone with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms.
Johnson said last weekend that he got a test because his wife Chandra had taken the initiative to get a coronavirus test. Chandra Johnson was experiencing allergy-like symptoms and found out Friday morning that she had tested positive. Jimmie Johnson, who the team says has not experienced any symptoms at all, took a test after her results came back and he tested positive as well.
We’re still learning a lot about the coronavirus with each passing week. But we do know that the incubation period for the virus can take up to 14 days. That’s why the CDC advises people to quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to someone with coronavirus.
It’s impossible to know when either of the Johnsons contracted the coronavirus. Did Jimmie race with coronavirus at Pocono on June 27 and June 28 since he tested negative for COVID-19 less than a week after he tested positive on Friday? We’ll probably never know. He clearly passed NASCAR’s at-track screening protocols, but those protocols aren’t designed to catch asymptomatic coronavirus cases.
NASCAR’s been banking on its mandatory at-track mask requirements and group clustering social distance protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus. And Johnson isn’t the first member of the Cup Series garage that we know of to have tested positive for the virus. It was inevitable that some drivers and crew members were going to contract the virus after NASCAR returned to racing in May.
Johnson said last weekend that he didn’t know where or when he and Chandra had contracted the virus. A weekly pre-race test could have given him a better idea.
Johnson’s brief hiatus from the No. 48 and his Chandra’s seemingly relatively minor symptoms are great news for both their health and his quest to make the playoffs in his final Cup Series season. But it’s also a sign of how hard the virus is to control and screen for without mass-scale testing. And hopefully it’s a signal to NASCAR that regular coronavirus testing for all participants is necessary.
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More from Yahoo Sports: