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Likely ‘false positive’ COVID-19 test cost NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson part of his legacy

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Top NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson says he is “frustrated” and angry over a lack of information about COVID-19 after a recent coronavirus test that could have been a false positive forced him to miss the first race of his career.

The seven-time champion became the first driver in NASCAR to test positive earlier this month, forcing him to miss a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His wife, Chani, also tested positive after reportedly experiencing allergy-like symptoms. Johnson never had any symptoms, The Associated Press reported.

“My first priority is the health and safety of my loved ones and my teammates,” Johnson, 44, said at the time.

“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,” he added.

Three days later, however, Johnson took another coronavirus test and it turned up negative, leaving him confused and aggravated because now he isn’t sure he or his wife ever really had it or carried it.

“There’s a lot of speculation there. I’m the most frustrated person out there, especially living in a world of facts that we do. To not have the facts drives me bananas,” he said, The AP reported in a separate story.

Prior to the race at the historic Indianapolis venue, Johnson had a streak of 663 consecutive starts, which was the longest among active drivers. After two negative tests last week, he was cleared to race at the Kentucky Speedway on Sunday.

“My first response was just anger. I started cussing and used every cuss word that I knew of and I think invented a few new ones,” Johnson said Friday after the two negative tests.

“It was just so weird — the anger — because I’ve been asymptomatic. Anger hits. And then speculation in my mind. And then it’s, ‘Wait a second, there is nothing good that can come of this. No one knows. I don’t know. It’s just time to move on,’” he added.

A study that was published last month in the journal Nature Medicine found that nearly half of all people who were positive for the virus were infected by someone who was not exhibiting any symptoms. Researchers also found that nearly 80 percent of middle school kids and teenagers show no symptoms at all.

Scientists said that asymptomatic cases are problematic because those people could contribute to the “silent spread” of the disease. But then again, even so, the vast majority of people under the age of 70 are not going to suffer at all or will only experience mild symptoms.

Then, of course, there is the concern over potential false positives, as apparently happened in Johnson’s case.

But his isn’t the only one. Earlier this month, PGA golfer Cameron Champ missed a match after testing positive for the virus, only to test negative three subsequent times, CNBC reported.

After the positive test, Champ immediately withdrew from the Travelers Championship match with plans to self-quarantine for 14 days. But five days later he tested negative for the illness three consecutive times, which raised questions anew about the accuracy of testing in the first place.

“I feel great physically and I was obviously surprised and disappointed to learn of the test result,” he said via Twitter, CNBC reported.

The PGA resumed play in June after shutting down for months, like other professional sports leagues.

For Johnson though, having to withdraw from the Indianapolis race cost him part of his legacy. He is set to retire from NASCAR this year and was going to try to become a five-time winner at the speedway, tying other legendary drivers Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher.

After his negative tests, Johnson was given a waiver by NASCAR.

“Jimmie is a true battle-tested champion, and we wish him well in his recovery,” the series said.

Jon Dougherty

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