Story updated with more information at 4:05 p.m. on July 8, 2020.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson has tested negative for the coronavirus twice and will compete in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson, who shares the record for most championships on NASCAR's top circuit (seven) with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, missed the first race of his Cup Series career when he tested positive last Friday. The 44-year-old driver 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 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Sparta. NASCAR confirmed Wednesday that Johnson has been cleared to return.
"It's been an emotional journey and I'm so happy to be back," Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Johnson's streak of 663 consecutive starts — most among active drivers — was snapped when he didn't race this past Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Justin Allgaier replaced him behind the wheel of the No. 48 Camaro and finished 37th after an early multicar 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 plans 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 experiencing what she thought were the effects of 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 race in Indianapolis dropped Johnson to 15th in the driver standings, 46 points above the cutoff for the playoffs.
Even before Johnson's diagnosis, Hendrick Motorsports had implemented a strict protocol that includes 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.
A first for Daytona
NASCAR will move its August road course race from Watkins Glen International in upstate New York because of state health restrictions, shifting the event to the road course at Daytona International Speedway.
The venue in Daytona Beach, Florida, has typically hosted the season-opening Daytona 500 and a July race, both on its 2.5-mile tri-oval that is one of two superspeedways on the circuit. The Cup Series has never held a race on Daytona's road course, which is used by the International Motor Sports Association's sports car series and incorporates part of the well-known main track.
The Aug. 16 race is being moved 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," track 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 tri-oval. The Aug. 29 event is unchanged from the original 2020 schedule that has been patched back together after a 10-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NASCAR said Wednesday it will determine if fans are allowed at Cup Series races on a market-by-market basis, doing so in accordance with local and state guidelines. NASCAR is expected to run its Nov. 8 season finale at Phoenix Raceway as scheduled, barring changes to the health and safety protocol during the 10-week playoff series.
The revisions announced Wednesday affect six Cup Series races at three tracks. Michigan International Speedway will host a doubleheader before NASCAR's debut on the Daytona road course. Dover International Speedway will then 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 as part of the annual preseason Speedweeks, 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 competition resumed May 17, and it will mark 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.
Pennsylvania's Pocono Raceway already hosted Cup races on consecutive days, so Michigan and Dover will make for three doubleheader weekends this season. The Cup Series also had its first doubleheader with IndyCar last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the open-wheel series competing Saturday — NASCAR's second-tier Xfinity Series raced on Indy's road course that day — and the Cup Series event Sunday.
NASCAR has adopted one-day schedules for races without practice or qualifying, and the starting lineups have been set by random draws or inversions based on the previous race's finishing order. Many of the elements the organization was forced into trying in 2020 could be used next year, too.