NASCAR: Media Day
USATSI

Jimmie Johnson became the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to test positive for COVID-19, causing him to miss the first race of his career at Indianapolis. Three days later, the asymptomatic Johnson was cleared to return to racing after two negative tests. 

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, like other drivers and crew members, was not being regularly tested by the sport for COVID-19. However, after being bothered by seasonal allergies Johnson's wife got tested and came back positive, which prompted Johnson to do the same. 

So was Johnson's test a false positive? 

"There are a lot of scenarios that can play out -- probably three or four scenarios that could play out -- and to go through them and try to form an opinion would just be speculating." Johnson said on Friday. "I don't know a lot, but I do know that I've had two negative tests and I've followed protocol. I've also had a release from my physician to put me back in the car. I feel great, I'm excited and I'm ready to go.

"There's a lot of speculation there. I don't know those answers and believe me, I'm the most frustrated person out there, especially living in a world of facts that we do. To not have the facts drives me bananas, but I have followed protocol and I've been reinstated. That's about all I can speak to at this point."

This is the final full-time season of Johnson's 19-year Cup career. Prior to the missed race at the Brickyard, Johnson had made 663 consecutive starts, which is the longest among active NASCAR drivers. He explained that there were a variety of emotions after discovering he tested positive.

"I would say my first response though was just anger," he said. "I mean I started cussing and used every cuss word that I knew of and then I think I invented a few new ones. It was just so weird, the anger, because I've been asymptomatic. So, the anger hits, the speculation in my mind. And then it's like, wait a second, there's nothing good to come of this. No one knows, I don't know, so it's just time to move on. 

"And then I got very excited, started looking at the facts that I've only missed one race, I still have a good gap above the cutline and then the optimism about I hope I get that second negative and then I did. So, I feel like I'm more on the optimistic side of things and really out of the dark head space that I was in, and just moving in the right direction and looking forward in all this."

Johnson explained during the media availability that he was more motivated than ever to win a championship and that preparing for a race to happen without him was a difficult pill to swallow.

"It was just such a weird set of events," Johnson said. "I would say that Saturday night trying to go to sleep was probably the most difficult time for me, knowing that I wasn't going to be in the car. Sunday morning was still pretty tough, but I felt like Saturday night was probably the peak of the emotions that go with missing a race and the consecutive start streak coming to an end. Not being in the car, my final year -- all the things that you would naturally think of, Saturday night was the peak."

Johnson also said that he was convinced he wouldn't watch the race, but after talking with crew chief Cliff Daniels on Sunday morning, he found the motivation to watch Justin Allgaier's short run in the No. 48. Of course Allgaier was involved in the pit road incident that sent tire changer Zach Price, for Ryan Blaney's No. 12 team, to the hospital -- Price is expected to make a full recovery.

The 44-year-old California native did not have to quarantine for a specific period of time, thanks to NASCAR's policy of providing two negative tests over 24 hours. He noted that the NFL and other sports are planning to follow similar protocols and declined to answer whether NASCAR should start testing drivers regularly.

What we do know is Johnson will have a chance to compete for his first win in over 100 races at Kentucky, a rare track that he's never won at, on Sunday. 

"Kentucky has been probably one of my top two or three most difficult tracks to compete at," Johnson said. "I hope to conquer the track from that personal standpoint. And then clearly what I've been through, what my friends and family have been through, what my fan base has been through in the last week -- it would be nice to leave there with a trophy.

"I'm like, what a comeback story. The COVID comeback if you will," he said with a laugh. "It could really be a special moment. I've always been highly motivated, but it would be really cool to have great success on Sunday."