Jimmie Johnson is back. On Wednesday morning, Hendrick Motorsports announced the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has been medically cleared to return to racing starting with Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson missed last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after testing positive for COVID-19, snapping a 663-consecutive start streak dating back to his rookie year in 2002. The diagnosis also forced an IndyCar Series test with Chip Ganassi Racing, which would have taken place on this day on the Indianapolis road course, to be postponed. Justin Allgaier replaced him in the #48 for the 400, where he finished thirty-seventh in his first Cup start since 2016 after being involved in an early wreck on pit road.
“My family is so grateful for the incredible love and support we’ve received over the last several days,” Johnson said. “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.”
Under NASCAR’s guidelines, Johnson had to test negative twice within a 24-hour span, which he achieved with tests on Monday and Tuesday. He was cleared by a doctor on Tuesday night. Johnson had been asymptomatic during his period with the virus, and chose to get tested after his wife exhibited symptoms. Four Hendrick employees were also tested in the wake of Johnson’s diagnosis, all of whom were negative. According to a team release, HMS conducts daily screenings for COVID-19, while shop employees are distanced from those travelling to and from races.
After his clearance, Johnson posted a video of his spotter Earl Barban singing his best wishes before the 400. Although Barban’s rapping skills are questionable at best, it is the thought that counts.
Although he missed a race, Johnson remains in playoff contention via waiver as he seeks his record-breaking eighth title in his final full-time season. He is currently fifteenth in points with six top-ten finishes and a best run of third at Bristol Motor Speedway in May; he had been twelfth in the standings prior to Indianapolis.