CHARLOTTE — Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has twice tested negative for the coronavirus and will race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson missed the first race of his Cup career when he tested positive last Friday. He was tested after his wife received a positive result.
Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson tested negative on Monday and Tuesday and will return to the No. 48 Chevrolet at Kentucky. NASCAR confirmed Wednesday that Johnson has been cleared to return.
“It’s been an emotional journey and I’m so happy to be back,” he tweeted.
Johnson’s streak of 663 consecutive starts — most among active drivers — was snapped when he didn’t race Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Justin Allgaier replaced him at the Brickyard 400 and finished 37th after an early multi-car crash on pit road.
Johnson is the only NASCAR driver to test positive for the coronavirus since the series resumed racing on May 17. He is scheduled to retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of this season.
“My family is so grateful for the incredible love and support we’ve received over the last several days,” he 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.”
Johnson never experienced any symptoms; his wife, Chani, was tested after suffering from what she thought was routine seasonal allergies. When she received her positive result, Johnson and their two young daughters were tested. Their daughters were negative.
Hendrick Motorsports had four crew members tested for COVID-19 after Johnson’s diagnosis and all four received negative results. The No. 48 team will have its regular personnel roster for Sunday’s race.
Missing the Brickyard 400 dropped Johnson to 15th in the driver standings, 46 points above the cutoff for playoffs.
Even before Johnson’s diagnosis, Hendrick Motorsports had implemented strict protocols that include daily health screenings for employees working at team facilities. The organization works in split work schedules with stringent face covering and social distancing requirements. Hendrick has also increased its level of disinfecting and sanitizing all work areas.
NASCAR also announced it will move its August road course race from Watkins Glen in upstate New York because of state health restrictions, and the event will shift instead to the road course at Daytona International Speedway.
The move means the Cup Series will make its debut on Daytona’s road course, which is used by the IMSA sports car series and incorporates part of the famed 2.5-mile oval. The race on Aug. 16 was necessary to move from Watkins Glen because NASCAR cannot meet New York’s quarantine requirements for out-of-state visitors.
“This is an unprecedented time in the history of our nation and Watkins Glen International,” racetrack President Michael Printup said. “The dynamic situation we are all confronting is impacting our daily lives and activities in unimaginable ways.”
NASCAR will return to Daytona two weeks later as scheduled for the regular season finale on the oval. The Aug. 29 event is unchanged from the original 2020 schedule that has been patched back together following a 10-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NASCAR said Wednesday it will determine if fans are allowed at Cup races on a market-by-market basis, in accordance with local and state guidelines.
NASCAR is expected to run its Nov. 8 season finale as scheduled, barring changes to health protocols during the 10-week playoff series.
The revisions announced Wednesday cover six Cup races at three tracks. Michigan International Speedway will host a doubleheader before NASCAR’s debut on the Daytona road course. After that race, Dover International Speedway will host a doubleheader, and the playoff field will be finalized the next week at Daytona.
NASCAR was not scheduled to compete on the road course at Daytona until next February in the exhibition Busch Clash to kick off the season. But many of the ideas for next year’s schedule have been forced into the present as NASCAR attempts to complete its 38-race schedule.
The All-Star race next Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway will be the fourth midweek race since NASCAR resumed on May 17 and just the second time in event history the race won’t be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Track officials shifted the race to Tennessee, where up to 30,000 fans will be able to attend, because North Carolina is not allowing large gatherings.
Pocono already hosted Cup races on consecutive days, so Michigan and Dover make for three doubleheader weekends this season. The Cup Series also had its first doubleheader with IndyCar last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
NASCAR has adopted one-day shows without practice or qualifying, and the starting lineups have been set by random draws or inversions based on the last race’s finishing order. Many of the elements NASCAR was forced into trying in 2020 could be seen on next year’s schedule.
NASCAR will race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. It will be the 13th Cup race since NASCAR resumed racing eight weeks ago.