Jimmie Johnson admitted he still thinks about the fact that his missed race at Indianapolis in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season cost him a playoff spot — and that he wonders whether or not he actually had COVID-19.
It came down to the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway in late August, but seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson ultimately failed to qualify for the playoffs in his final season as a full-time driver, missing out by just six points to Matt DiBenedetto.
There are several moments throughout the 26-race regular season last year that one can point to when it comes to why the driver of the #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet didn’t advance to the four-round, 10-race postseason.
His crash while leading at Darlington Raceway on the final lap of the first stage comes to mind. Take that away, and he’s in.
His disqualification from second place at Charlotte Motor Speedway comes to mind. Take that away, and he’s in.
But most notably, his missed race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway one year ago today comes to mind.
He had been slated to start that race in fourth place, but a positive test for COVID-19 left him sidelined for the first time since he became a full-time driver in 2002.
A top 30 finish in that race would have gotten into the playoffs.
Johnson, who now competes in the road and street course races in the NTT IndyCar Series, recently spoke to us about missing that race and what he thought — and still thinks — about how it affected his season.
He said that as soon as he was informed that he had tested positive and would not be able to compete, he had a feeling that it would impact his playoff chances.
“What’s interesting is that weekend I missed the race in July, I knew how it would impact the year, and I had a rough couple of days, missing that race, watching my car on television, knowing the implications that were going to come with it,” Johnson told Beyond the Flag after speaking about his new partnership with Alcon and their Pataday Once Daily Relief Extra Strength allergy eye drops.
Johnson had gotten tested because his wife, Chandra, had tested positive.
“My wife, on the other hand, was really just supporting me in that moment,” he continued. “She was understanding why I was so upset, but was really trying to help me see it correctly.”
Interestingly, the script was somewhat flipped when Johnson actually missed the playoffs like he knew he very well could.
“Then we fast-forward to the race in Daytona,” he elaborated. “I missed the cutoff by six points. I’m in a very strong space of saying ‘Hey, I saw this coming, I knew it was going to be tight.’ And my wife was very upset and distraught and I was then consoling her on missing the championship battle by just six points!”
Johnson admitted he still has doubts that he even had the virus, and you can’t really blame him.
“So it was a really tough time, and now looking back, there are so many things that I would have handled that environment differently,” he admitted.
“We just know so much more about COVID-19, and I still have a lot of speculation if I was even positive or not because I had a positive test and a couple days later had two negatives. So you live and learn. But sadly, I did miss that race.”
Despite the fact that a potential false positive may have cost him a playoff spot, he looked on the bright side.
“Thankfully, no one in my family was really ill,” he said. “If I did have it, I was asymptomatic. My wife certainly was asymptomatic, and we’ve survived a pandemic now. We’re fully vaccinated and ready for the world to open back up!”
He did admit that things were pretty stressful in his household during the beginning of the pandemic when NASCAR experienced an unexpected 10-week hiatus, and I’m sure most of us can relate.
“I think the first few weeks were the toughest, just trying to understand how to do my job virtually and how to stay plugged in, how to help my sponsors, team obligations,” he noted. “So adjusting to all of that on top of having our two children not in school and trying to help them through their schoolwork day in and day out. So then add to all of that, my wife owns an art gallery here in North Carolina, and stress was quite high for the Johnson household.
“We survived those first few weeks, figured out what our new normal looked like and kind of got going there and found a nice rhythm.”