Earlier this week, when Golden Tate saw that Jimmie Johnson was up for Male Athlete of the Year at the ESPYs, Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate tweeted out:
"Jimmy johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism"
"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"
That put NASCAR nation into action to defend it sport and drivers, which eventually led Tate to tweet:
"I will say my respect for NASCAR has gone up tremendously yalls fans r hard nose and passionate #respect!"
Hence the line of questiong that ensued Friday during Johnson's media session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
HALFWAY THROUGH THE SEASON, TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING INTO THE SECOND HALF
“Some race weekends we leave kind of down and knowing that we need some speed and some areas to work in; and then other weeks, things go really well for us. Kentucky last weekend was a strong race, a strong 1.5-mile for us. I think the Thursday test session allowed us to work through some issues and try some new stuff and get some data and some ideas and things to work on. We’re excited for our 1.5-mile program. We were very competitive all night long in Kentucky. I know that coming to a mile flat-track, we’ve had some things that we feel would work here and we’re excited to get on track today and hopefully have a very fast race car. We’re doing well. We feel like we should be sitting here with three or four wins. We had some opportunities early and mistakes made team-wide that prevented that from happening.
“I felt like last weekend the chance to race for the win, that’s something that we need to do before we realistically should expect to win. So it was nice to run in the top three, top-five all night long; put the pressure on the pit stops and put the pressure on myself in the car, and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) on calling the race, and try to be in that moment, especially as we get closer to the Chase. As I’ve said every year, the pressure that is put on a team and a driver during the Chase is unlike anything else. So the more opportunities we have to race for wins and to be in that moment, the stronger we’ll be when the Chase comes around.”
WHO WERE SOME OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE ATHLETES YOU MET AT THE ESPYS BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE NOT AN ATHLETE YOURSELF, APPARENTLY (LAUGHTER)
“Yes, correct (a lot of laughter). I was impersonating an athlete at the ESPYS. Really when you see how tall basketball players are and then how big the football players are; I saw Dirk (Nowitzki, names best male athlete); and Kristine (Curley, his PR person) reminded me that he came to a race a few years back and she has a great photo trying to reach up and put the headset on him. And I saw him 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 was at your race, do you remember?’ (laughter at Jimmie’s 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 (laughter). But it was so funny to see him in that moment and the excitement he had to say hello. Just the event in general, was really cool on that front. I went in ’06, or somewhere in there, and I was shocked then that people throughout sports knew of NASCAR. And then to go back this year and see the reception and interaction sports-wide was amazing. But some big dudes play in other sports. And Ray Allen, when you see him on the court next to Kevin Garnet and Paul Pierce, he kind of looked small next to those guys. I walked up to him and I’m like hey man, what’s up? He’s just a big guy. So, that overall impression was pretty amazing.”
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GOING TO THOSE AWARDS, DO YOU THINK NASCAR HAS GAINED MORE CREDIBILITY?
“Yeah, without a doubt. Just from the applause when I was introduced for the red carpet, the interaction with all the media outlets; I heard that (Jay) Leno put us on and another guy on the carpet as well. 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.”
RECENTLY THERE WAS AN ARTICLE ABOUT ATHLETES WHO ‘TWEET’. HAVE YOU EVER REGRETTED ANY OF YOUR TWEETS?
“Not necessarily what was in the Tweet, but one, I can’t spell worth a damn; and two, I don’t proof-read often enough. And there have been plenty of responses back. I guess the most recent one, whoever the guy that plays for the Seattle Seahawks, I spelled his name wrong. But fortunately the fans got involved and took out the extra ‘e’ that I put in and made sure that it made it to his phone, I guess.”
WHEN FANS SEE YOU AT THAT EVENT, THEY ARE GLAD THERE IS NASCAR REPRESENTATION THERE. WHEN YOU READ A TWEET FROM GOLDEN TATE, THE SEAHAWKS, DOES THAT OFFEND YOU IN A WAY? DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT WILL EVER CHANGE OR YOU CAN CHANGE IT? WHEN YOU SEE YOUR PHOTO UP ON THE BIG SCREEN, THE IMAGE WITH THE OTHER ATHLETES, DO YOU THINK YOU CAN EVER CHANGE THAT? DID THE TWEET KIND OF MAKE YOU MAD?
“I think as a race car driver that is something we have fought all along. So it wasn’t anything new. I didn’t take great offense to it. I took great pride in watching our sport and all the motorsports fans out there express themselves and share their thoughts. That was really cool. And it’s something we have fought for a long time.
“If you go back to Bill France and his vision, and the only reason I bring this up is because when I won the AP Male Athlete of the Year, I got a letter from Jim France; a handwritten letter telling me how important it was to his father and to his grandfather that drivers would be considered as athletes someday. So it’s been around for a long time and I feel that through the success I’ve had and some of the opportunities I’ve had, and also some of the awards I’ve won, that we’ve helped dispel that. It didn’t bother me. I took great pride in seeing our NASCAR Nation kind of put him in place. 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.”
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS TOPIC KEEPS COMING UP? WHAT DO THINK THE PERCEPTION IS OF DRIVING AS A SPORT IS AMONG GREATER ATHLETES, NOT THE SELECT FEW THAT TWEET?
“I think it’s easy to make a comment when you don’t know. 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. When you take folks into Hendrick Motorsports and they thought we were working out behind a gas station working on our race cars.
“So, there is just an education process that has to take place across a lot of mediums. 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. I think most recently it was Mark Sanchez (New York Jets). He is all about racing. And with some of the free time he’s had lately, he’s been racing. Like he has the bug and enjoys it and it all came from a sponsorship opportunity where he drove a car and rode in a car I think at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And then he came back for the All-Star Race, and then went to Pocono (laughs). He’s just been going and going. So those athletes really help with credibility for our sport. And we’ve known it all along and have been saying it, but when other athletes mention it, we get the credit we deserve.”
DID YOU KNOW WHO GOLDEN TATE IS? WOULD YOU KNOW HIM IF HE WAS SITTING NEXT TO YOU, AND IF HE WAS SITTING NEXT TO YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU DO OR SAY TO HIM?
“No, I wouldn’t know who he is. I didn’t prior to the whole Twitter thing that took place. But I’d just 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. We’d all love to host them and show them around. I have no hard feelings. Everybody has an opinion. I don’t like it when people express their opinion without knowing. So if he comes and finds that we’re not athletes and has a different opinion if he was to attend a race, that’s fine. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”
THE CHAMPIONSHIP LOOKS LIKE IT’S WINDING DOWN TO A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE. WE’RE LOOKING AT THE WEAKNESSES ALL YOU GUYS HAVE. KYLE BUSCH IS THE GUY WE’RE ALL LOOKING AT. HE’S BEEN A GREAT DRIVER FOR SO MANY YEARS, BUT HE HAS SOME KIND OF FATAL FLAW WHEN IT COMES TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP RACE. CAN YOU SENSE ANY CHANGE AND THAT HE IS FINALLY A CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER DRIVER?
“He’s always been, in my opinion. And weird things out of his own doing, or just back luck or whatever, have come into play in the Chase. I still at this point, do not see a clear favorite. Kyle won last week so he’s probably at the top of the mind for a lot of people. He’s moved up in the points and has had some good races, but I still haven’t seen a dominant car or driver out there this year. I still believe it’s anyone’s championship. And then it’s still a couple of months away; seven races away or whatever it is, and a lot can change between now and then, good and bad, for all the teams. I think it’s going to be a very difficult Chase to predict.”
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