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Friday, July 15, 2011
Golden Tate tweets on Jimmie Johnson

Associated Press

LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson has a pair of titles he's especially proud to have linked to his name: NASCAR champion. AP Male Athlete of the Year.

Yes, that's right. The five-time champion driver is an athlete, too.

Johnson was swept into a brief Twitter feud this week because of his inclusion as a nominee for male athlete of the year at the ESPY Awards. Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate posted on his account, @ShowtimeTate, "Jimmy johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism."

He continued to tweak Johnson, angering NASCAR fans. Tate later posted, "12th man get these rednecks off me."

Johnson mostly laughed off the barbs Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and invited Tate to the track to learn more about NASCAR.

"I think it's easy to make a comment when you don't know," Johnson said. "In a lot of situations, people haven't been to a race or been close enough to our sport to understand what takes place here."

Johnson often mentions his 2009 AP award, because he's proud and because it ran down some stereotypes that drivers shouldn't be considered athletes. He received a handwritten letter from the grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France that told him how important it was that drivers were considered athletes.

"It's something we have fought for a long time," Johnson said.

Tate believed men in firesuits aren't qualified to be called athletes like men in shoulder pads.

Some of his posts:

"I've driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90mph no big deal. No sign of athletism."

"Guarantee he couldn't in million year play any SPORT."

"give me 6 months of training and I bet I could compete."

NASCAR defenders quickly typed in defense of their champion and their slams got Tate's attention.

"Apologies for my offensive comment to NASCAR fans. I actually read up on it and NO I couldn't race a car 150 mph," he tweeted.

Late Friday he tweeted "will say my respect for NASCAR has gone up tremendously yalls fans r hard nose and passionate #respect!"

Johnson found humor in the posts, joking that, "I was impersonating an athlete at the ESPYS."

Drivers have always defended their spot as true athletes. Detractors claim it's not that hard to sit and turn left for a few hours. But when other athletes get a taste of NASCAR, they're often hooked -- and give credit that a driver is no less a real athlete than a baseball or football player.

"There is just an education process that has to take place across a lot of mediums," Johnson said. "Through sports, I'm excited to see top athletes come in and see what we do and also go for rides in cars and be around. And when they do, they are our best advocates. They are out there telling the story."