It wasn't the first time that Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have been drafting partners. The two have won their fair share of races on NASCAR's restrictor-plate tracks, where the nuance of aerodynamics and slipstreams is of crucial importance.
Wednesday, though, the pair worked a different sort of draft as part of a full-fledged peloton of cyclists on a 130-mile trip from Asheville, North Carolina to Charlotte, with each logging personal bests for distance. The event was the first leg of the four-day Ride On Atlanta, a 400-mile trek designed to raise awareness and funding for the non-profit PeopleForBikes organization.
Though Wednesday's ride represented the extreme end of the pendulum for their road biking exploits, Johnson and Kenseth have been increasingly involved in running together on two wheels. Most Tuesdays, the two can be found bounding around Charlotte-area trails on mountain bikes, sharpening their physical and mental skills.
(Photo courtesy of Meg McMahon for PeopleForBikes)
"What I like about mountain biking is that when you're really, really tired, you've still got to pay a lot of attention because there's still going to be a rock or a root or a jump or an obstacle of some sort," Kenseth said. "To me, it kind of relates to racing a little bit because when you're most tired, you still have to pay attention and be on your toes and do all that.
"And you're out in the woods. You're not going to get hit by a car. You might hit a tree, but the tree's not going to hit you. You might hit it."
Johnson, whose skills as an avid triathlete are well established, said Kenseth has been a quick study as a relative newcomer to the biking scene. Johnson's previous distance record was a 100-mile journey he took for his 40th birthday last September; Kenseth's personal best was an approximately 60-mile ride with Johnson in the Daytona area this February.
A review of Johnson's bike telemetry at day's end showed 130.4 miles -- "definitely the high score," he said -- more than 7 hours, 21 minutes of rolling time, an average of 17.6 mph. Johnson said that he and Kenseth were understandably a tad nervous about Wednesday's distance, but that -- much like his trail-riding prowess -- Kenseth matched him pedal for pedal.
"I've been impressed with his bike-handling skills," Johnson said. "I've taken race car drivers on mountain bike rides and they're scared for their lives, like they're just going to wreck at any point. Growing up in Wisconsin, (Kenseth) had dirt bikes, he raced snowmobiles -- he has a very good sense of where he is on the bike."
On race weekends, Johnson can often be found running or biking along speedway grounds in the early morning hours or after the garage's closing time. His running routine hasn't made its way to Kenseth, who claims his wife, Katie, is the runner of the family.
But Kenseth said his renewed devotion to fitness involving handlebars is just part of trying to be better behind the wheel.
"Just trying to stay in better shape. As you get older, it's not easier, it's always harder so I feel like you've got to work harder at it," Kenseth said. "I think the more physically fit you are, the more mentally fit you are as well. I think it all kind of goes hand in hand."