Moments before they concluded their championship duel at Homestead-Miami Speedway two years ago, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin found themselves riding around in the same pickup truck. They waved to the fans attending the Chase season finale but said little to each other, avoiding eye contact for the most part.

 

“That’s a long five minutes around the racetrack,” Johnson said.

 

It’s not that they disliked each other but with a championship at stake that day, there was little to say during the prerace activity. Hamlin sought his first NASCAR Sprint Cup title, while Johnson vied for his record-extending fifth in a row. Eventually, they revealed postseason vacation plans in brief utterances to each other before refocusing on the race.

 

“I’m a friendly guy by nature, so I’m sitting there trying to have my competitive mindset and it’s not very comfortable, to say the least,” Johnson said.