For the first time since 2001, Jimmie Johnson will not be in a NASCAR Cup Series event. On Friday, just two days before the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the seven-time champion announced he has tested positive for COVID-19. Justin Allgaier will replace him in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Sunday’s race.
According to a team statement, Johnson had not shown symptoms of the virus, but chose to test after his wife Chandra began experiencing signs of allergy. Hendrick Motorsports also isolated an employee on the #48 team who has regularly interacted with the driver as a safety measure.
“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson stated. “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.”
It has been a tumultuous 2020 season for Johnson, his last as a full-time Cup racer. The 83-time race winner is currently twelfth in points, but has not won since 2017 and has been plagued by numerous instances of misfortunes during his final campaign, even excluding the chaos that COVID-19 has wreaked on the schedule.
With the announcement, Johnson snaps a streak of 663 consecutive Cup starts dating back to his rookie year in 2002. The last race to not feature the seven-time champ was the 2001 season finale. A four-time winner at Indianapolis, the news also means he will be unable to participate in an IndyCar Series test with Chip Ganassi Racing scheduled for next Wednesday. His timetable for return is contingent on being cleared by a doctor upon testing negative.
“Jimmie has handled this situation like the champion he is,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “We’re relieved he isn’t showing symptoms and that Chani is doing great, and we know he’ll be back and ready to go very soon. It’s going to be difficult for him to be out of the car and away from his team, but it’s the right thing to do for Jimmie and everyone involved.”
His replacement Allgaier is a member of the Hendrick organisation via Xfinity Series feeder team JR Motorsports. He sits seventh in the Xfinity standings and had reached the Championship Round the previous year. Allgaier also has Cup experience, racing full-time in the premier series in 2014 and 2015 with one top ten. He will be the first driver not named Jimmie Johnson to run the #48 in a Cup race since Trevor Boys in 1993.
“First and foremost my thoughts are with Jimmie Johnson and his family,” Allgaier posted on social media. “My wife, Ashley, Harper, and I wish them a speedy recovery and, just as everyone else, want nothing more than to see him back in the car as soon as possible. The Brickyard 400 will NOT be the same without him.
“I’m honored Team Hendrick chose me to be on reserve during this pandemic time. The organization has been very careful in their planning for these rare occasions. I look forward to representing Ally, Chevrolet, Mr. Hendrick, and all of the Team Hendrick partners to the best of my ability and believe we can make Jimmie and his #48 team proud until he’s ready to get behind the wheel.”
Johnson drew a fourth-place starting position for Sunday’s race, but the #48 will presumably start at the back due to a driver change.