Jimmie Johnson says Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate's anti-NASCAR comments were made out of a lack of knowledge – but added they were nothing a trip to the racetrack wouldn't fix.
Tate tweeted during Wednesday's ESPY awards that Johnson – who was nominated for Best Male Athlete – shouldn't have been included because NASCAR drivers aren't athletes.
That set off a firestorm of back-and-forth comments between Tate and NASCAR fans, with Johnson even chiming in at one point via Twitter:
@JimmieJohnson: @showetimetate Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). Lucky 4 you, this can be fixed. Come to a race and be informed
Johnson expanded on that thought during his media availability at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday morning, saying he'd be happy to help Tate form a more educated opinion.
"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. There is also a misconception of what a race shop looks like – (like) when you take folks into Hendrick Motorsports and they thought we were working out behind a gas station working on our race cars."
Tate's tweets didn't offend Johnson that much, he said, because drivers have always had to deal with the "Are they athletes?" question.
"It wasn't anything new," he said. "...It's something we have fought for a long time."
Johnson's biggest problem wasn't with Tate's opinion, but with the lack of understanding Tate exhibited before bashing drivers.
"I don't like it when people express their opinion without knowing," Johnson said. "So if he comes (to a race) and finds that we're not athletes and has a different opinion (after he) was to attend a race, that's fine. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion."
NASCAR's five-time defending champion said he'd "like to show him around and see if we can show him what our sport is about and change his mind."
"There might be other athletes out there who think the same and they're all welcome to come out," Johnson said. "We'd all love to host them and show them around. I have no hard feelings."
While Johnson may have been put down from someone watching the ESPYs on TV, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said the reception at the awards couldn't have been more welcoming.
"Just from the applause when I was introduced for the red carpet, the interaction with all the media outlets," Johnson said, "across the board, throughout media and the athletes themselves and the executives that were there, the people at ESPN, there is no doubt that NASCAR is well-known and well-received throughout sports."
In light of Tate's comments, Johnson joked he was "impersonating an athlete" at the ESPYs and recalled chatting it up with NBA stars like Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki.
"I saw (Nowitzki) and went to introduce myself to him and didn't think he'd remember me and with his accent and his excitement he was like, ‘I vahz aht your rahce, doo you reemembah?'" Johnson said in an faux German accent. "I don't know if the accent is even close; I just feel like I was trying to sound like (Arnold) Schwarzenegger for some reason."
Though Johnson said he wasn't upset about Tate's tweets, the driver was proud of the fans for their efforts to stick up for NASCAR.
"I took great pride in seeing our NASCAR Nation kind of put him in place," Johnson said. "And as you watched his timeline, he quickly has changed his song and dance and is now saying he respects the NASCAR group. So good job, everyone."