Hindsight being clearer than a driver in Jimmie Johnson's rearview mirror, Golden Tate might have underestimated the NASCAR fan community's might.
After learning Wednesday that Johnson was nominated for male athlete of the year at the ESPY Awards, the Seattle Seahawks wide receiver tweeted, "Jimmy johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticism."
When Tate followed with several other pointed barbs directed at the sport, NASCAR fans came back at him with hundreds of angry tweets.
Tate initially was taken aback by the response, having miscalculated the sport's immense popularity.
"I will say this: NASCAR fans, do not mess with them," Tate said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, ProFootballTalk.com reported Saturday. "... They will eat you alive."
As NASCAR fans bombarded his Twitter account, Tate did some research about the sport he had mocked. He came out of his studies with a fresh new perspective on stock-car drivers.
"I did read up and educate myself, and I will say this: They are incredible people to do that," Tate said. "After reading up on it, I do have respect, and I do want to apologize to NASCAR nation."
Tate said he didn't mean to marginalize the accomplishments of Johnson, who has won five consecutive Sprint Cup Series championships and was named The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 2009.
"I wasn't really too familiar with Jimmie Johnson," Tate said in the interview. "I didn't mean it to be any disrespect, although it might have come across that way."
For his part, Johnson wasn't offended, saying Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that NASCAR drivers have fought the perception they aren't athletes "for a long time."
"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 (from other sports) 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.