Jimmie Johnson jokes that his wife is a rules follower, but this is a time, he is thankful for it.
The 7-time Cup champion could be bitter that he is asymptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19, keeping him out of the Brickyard 400 this weekend and likely next week’s race at Kentucky at the very least. But Johnson didn’t seem bitter at all when addressing the media Saturday morning.
Johnson could have hid in Aspen and not talked, but he has learned throughout his career that someone of his stature, who is about to see a streak of 663 consecutive races come to an end, is better off addressing what happened immediately.
Short story: His wife, Chani, who thought she was just suffering from allergies but knowing there could be a chance it was the coronavirus, went and got tested. Her test came back positive. So Johnson went and got tested. His came back positive.
They don’t know where they got it or who got it first. But they are among the 2,732,531 people and counting in the United States who have had the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If it wasn't for Chani’s diligence on trying to do the right thing at all times, we would be going on life as normal and who knows who we could have come in contact with and the repercussions that that could have had?” Johnson said in a Zoom call with reporters Saturday morning.
“I know our country and the world right now is over quarantine and over all these technicalities that we need to deal with. But as a family that's been very safe and very cautious, to end up testing positive, it just shows how diligent you truly need to be through all this.”
There was little talk over the 45 minutes about whether Johnson — riding a 110-race winless streak – could compete for the championship. He is 12th in the standings with a 63-point cushion on the current playoff cutoff. He could miss a couple of races and still get in on points, as NASCAR has granted him a waiver to miss races. If he missed four or five events, he might be forced to win a race before the regular season ends.
And while the 44-year-old Johnson certainly wants to make the playoffs, his thoughts seem to be with his children, ages 6 and 9, and how they are going to handle the next couple of weeks with both parents having tested positive and the kids having tested negative.
“We're being very responsible in our home and trying to the self-isolate, but at the same time we have to parent and that's really the tricky hurdle we're trying to sort out right now on top of managing their fears,” Johnson said.
“So thankfully, we're helping and hope to stay that way, but ... we've got to feed them and we're concerned, feeding them and passing the virus, so we're trying to be as healthy as we can but you know, on the home front with our kids, we're heartbroken right now to see the fear in their eyes and watching them try to manage what's going on right now.”
There has been plenty of chatter this year on whether Johnson could return for one more season, given the upheaval of what is supposed to be his last full-time year in Cup. But since that November 2019 news conference when he announced 2020 would be his last full-time year, Johnson has seemed ready for what would come next.
“Of course I feel disappointment that I'm not going to have some of these last races that I had hoped to have had,” Johnson said. “But I just don't know where we're going to be at the end of this year, let alone next year.
“I do know that I still want to compete, and I’ve made that really clear. I've had to inform Hendrick Motorsports that I do plan to not be in the car full-time, so they have to plan and do what they need to for the future. But I am hopeful that I can have an opportunity to come back in and run a Hendrick Cup car in some races. Clearly, I have this interest in IndyCar, sports car, and in many other forms of racing so I assume that's helping me deal with this and not feel like I'm having some things taken away from me.”
Johnson was supposed to test Wednesday in an IndyCar for Chip Ganassi Racing, and Johnson said Friday morning that he viewed that as a tryout. He said he could see himself running all 12 road-course races and now that IndyCar has seemed to improve its safety on the ovals, he might beg Chani for a hall pass for the Indy 500.
Johnson long ago told Chani that once they had children, he would not consider the Indy 500. It would probably take a lot of discussion for him to go back on that pledge.
For all the races (83 of them) that he has won, Johnson has been known as much for his character. If he sees someone who might need some help with a personal issue, he isn’t afraid to offer words or support. He has been at the forefront of uniting the drivers to support Bubba Wallace and speak out on social issues over the last month.
Johnson obviously appears a little frustrated. His family left North Carolina a few weeks ago for their home in Aspen thinking that would put them less at risk for the virus. He has had contact with a few people at Chip Ganassi Racing and one at Hendrick Motorsports who likely will need to get tested and quarantine. He now has had two IndyCar tests postponed, as he was scheduled to test for McLaren in April.
“I can be down and out on my situation, but if I turn on the news and I see how this virus has impacted so many others, I quickly feel thankful that I'm asymptomatic and that I don't have any major issues,” Johnson said. “So it'd be very easy right now to get bummed out and to look at this the wrong way but I'm healthy and my wife is healthy.”
He also might have a little bit of a hard time watching Justin Allgaier wheel his car Sunday. But Johnson has been around long enough to see that there are things that are just out of one’s control.
What is in his control is his health. And his future. And the future of those around him.
“I am asymptomatic so I don't have the fear,” Johnson said. “We don't know how many days in that I am right now so there is some concern that my conditions could worsen. But I literally have had zero symptoms.
“My wife at the most has allergy-like symptoms, which isn't uncommon for us this time of the year in Colorado ... I'm trying really hard to not be disappointed on the professional side or maybe some of these more selfish things that I'm going to miss out on, and be thankful that I'm healthy and my family's healthy.”