Oddly enough, it was hearing he tested negative for COVID-19 that upset Jimmie Johnson.

"I started cussing, and used every cuss word that I knew of," the typically mellow Johnson said Friday. "And then I think I invented a few new ones."

The negative tests came a few days after Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, and his wife, Chandra, tested positive for the virus, forcing the No. 48 driver to miss his first race in his 18-year Cup career last Sunday. He was medically cleared to return to racing Wednesday and is entered for Sunday's race at Kentucky Speedway.

"It was just so weird, the anger," Johnson said. "Because I've been asymptomatic. So anger hits and then speculation in my mind. And then it's like, wait a second, there is nothing good to come of this. No one knows. I don't know. It's just time to move on."

Johnson said the anger stemmed from a search for accurate information in order to move around in the world in the time of coronavirus.

"Anger related to the pandemic, through me being positive, through me missing a race, for me not being with my team, the fear in my children's eyes," Johnson said. "I just had anger everywhere."

Johnson declined to speculate whether he had received a false positive test or two false negatives, and added that he had been watching the return of other major sports on ESPN and had seen cases of both. In Major League Baseball, for example, Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo received two positive tests and two negative tests over the course of 10 days. In Major League Soccer, Nashville FC became the second team to withdraw from the MLS Is Back tournament because of a high number of positive coronavirus tests (the first was FC Dallas).

In line with NASCAR's protocol, Johnson tested negative twice this week, more than 24 hours apart, and was cleared by his personal physician. Unlike MLB, MLS or NBA, NASCAR is not requiring or administering regular COVID-19 testing as the sport resumes, nor is it sharing sport-wide test data. Instead, individuals are required to submit health questionnaires and temperature screenings before and after events, which are followed up on by NASCAR's medical team if there is reason for concern, such as checked symptoms or a fever. Teams, not NASCAR, have reported positive test results.

In Johnson's case, the driver was tested via a nasal swab last Friday after his wife experienced allergy-like symptoms and received a positive test. Johnson said he had received a positive antibody test in late April, but that he "didn't know how much to trust the antibody test" since his physician told him there was a "20% chance of being incorrect."

"I don't know how to add clarity and advice, and what changes need to take place," Johnson said Friday. "I unfortunately feel that there's a lot to still be learned in the professional field on this and the medical field on this."

"And I, like everyone else, am eagerly awaiting that instruction, that knowledge, a vaccine, better testing if it's required, better screening. There's just more questions than answers I think for a lot of us," Johnson added.

The 44-year-old said that he rode his bike to an elevation of 10,500 feet Wednesday and "felt perfectly fine" after reiterating that he has been without symptoms throughout the week, which he described as "an emotional journey."

He mentioned worrying about his safety and the safety of his family, which includes his two daughters, Genevieve (10 years old) and Lydia (seven), neither of whom tested positive for the virus, as well as the emotions of watching a race with another driver in his car for the first time in 663 Cup starts.

"Coming to grips with the reality of all of that has been challenging," Johnson said.

The veteran driver also provided perspective to other athletes or individuals who receive positive coronavirus tests and are forced to miss any portion of their season or workday. He said that because of how fast the virus is spreading and how quickly the world is re-opening, he "fear(s) that we're all going to have this at some point."

"I just don't see how we avoid that, so I'm worried about that," Johnson said. "I know that I've been very fortunate to be asymptomatic and have been able to have the range of emotions from anger to concern, and some people only have concerns."

His advice was this to those who test positive: "Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones. Be smart."

And although he said he didn't know a lot about testing for the virus, he mentioned what he did know.

"My hands are so dry and cracking from washing (them) consistently," Johnson said. "We know that the ways to help it not spread, and I think we just need to get more serious about that and really protect ourselves and our loved ones."

Johnson said he's out of "the dark headspace" he was in initially when testing positive and is excited about his return, which will carry him through his final year of full-time NASCAR racing during a season in which he is still in playoff contention.

"I'm like, what a comeback story," Johnson said. "The COVID comeback."


(c)2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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