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“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson told Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve never missed a race in my cup career, but I know it’s going to be very hard to watch from the sidelines when I’m supposed to be out there competing. Although this situation is extremely disappointing, I’m going to come back ready to win races and put ourselves in playoff contention.”
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is scheduled to retire at the end of this season.
NASCAR was one of the first sports to return on May 17th after a two-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson is the first driver to test positive for coronavirus, but a member of Team Penske and two employees of Stewart-Haas Racing have previously tested positive.
NASCAR mandated health screenings, social distancing, and personal protective equipment for the return. The media outlet Racer reported that violations of coronavirus protocols could result in fines of up to $50,000.
Beyond that, individual teams have implemented their own protocols. Hendricks Motorsports, who Johnson races for, said they have "daily COVID-19 screenings at the team facilities; the separation of facility operations and traveling personnel; split work schedules; stringent face covering and social distancing requirements; and an increased level of disinfecting and sanitization of all work areas."
NASCAR's first positive test for an athlete comes as other professional sports leagues create their own protocols for returning.
Several professional golfers on the PGA Tour have tested positive for coronavirus since its return.
Major League Baseball will return on July 23rd after owners and players agreed to a shortened 60-game season. The MLB will not have fans in the stadium for the foreseeable future, which will dramtically deacrease revenues for teams. Already, according to ESPN, 31 players have come up positive in the first round of coronavirus testing, the league and players' union announced Friday.
The National Basketball Association will restart its season July 31 with a reduced 22-team league at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida. The NBA was the first major sports league to put its season on pause after Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus in March. As of Thursday, 25 players tested positive for the coronavirus or seven percent of the league's players.
The National Football League has shortened its preseason from four games to two, but plans on going ahead with its full 16-game regular season for now, ESPN reported this week. The NFL has not released any official figures on players testing positive for the coronavirus. ESPN has reported that "roughly ten NFL teams" have had at least one player test positive for COVID-19.