A.J. Foyt recounts on ‘Race Hub’ how he blew a Daytona 500

A.J. Foyt is one of the greatest race-car drivers of all time. That much is undisputed.

But in 1979, in what turned out to be one of the most famous Daytona 500s in NASCAR history, Foyt made a simple mistake that he still believes cost him what would have been a second career victory in stock-car racing’s most prestigious race. Foyt related the story Wednesday during an appearance on “NASCAR Race Hub,” surprising fellow guest and seven-time NASCAR Premier Series champion Jimmie Johnson with the details of it.

Running third on the final lap, Foyt watched as leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough ended up wrecking each other and spinning off into the infield. He slowed immediately as the yellow caution flag came out — but back in those days, when the yellow came out in NASCAR races, competitors raced back around to the start-finish line before slowing.

Foyt was more used to running in open-wheel series such as USAC, where you slowed immediately when the yellow came out. (NASCAR later would change their rules to be the same, for safety reasons).

“I guess the one I really screwed up there in the Daytona 500 was on the wreck that Allison and them had,” Foyt told Johnson and Race Hub regulars Danielle Trotta, Adam Alexander and Larry McReynolds. “I was running third and I backed off. Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip blew by me.

“I was used to the yellow coming out in USAC. Normally when you see the yellow (in that series), you’d better back off or you could be killed pretty easily.”

Johnson said he had never heard that part of the story of the 1979 Daytona 500, which was the first 500 televised live from start to finish and ultimately was won by Petty.

“That’s a piece of the story that a lot of people, including myself, probably never knew took place,” Johnson said.

Foyt’s reaction as Petty and Waltrip sped past him that day?

“I said, ‘Oh, crap! I just blew this,’ ” Foyt said.

Foyt, a native of Texas, made the visit to Race Hub’s set in the FOX Sports TV compound at the Super Bowl in Houston. Thursday’s show, featuring special guest and FOX NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon, also will originate from the site and will air at 6 p.m. ET on FS1.

It wasn’t often in his career that Foyt messed up in any race car, including in NASCAR. The winner of 67 USAC races when it was the predecessor for what now is the IndyCar Series, including four Indianapolis 500s, Foyt also won seven times in 128 NASCAR Premier Series starts. That included victories in the 1972 Daytona 500 and the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.