Kurt Busch withstood a frenzied late race attack from Johnny Benson to win Sunday's Old Dominion 500 at the Martinsville Speedway in a race full of close, competitive racing.

Incoming bad weather was on everyone's minds at the start of Sunday's Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville but once the racing got underway those thoughts were quickly banished and when the chequered flag fell to Kurt Busch at the end of 500 laps, few could even recall that heavy rain was a big pre-race concern.

The 32nd round of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Championship provided a dozen lead changes amongst nine drivers and although several contenders spent lengthy periods running on their own at the front of the pack, the hustle and bustle for track position through the rest of the field was more than enough to keep the packed Martinsville crowd entertained.

Busch, driving the Jack Roush owned #97 Ford, led the final 111 laps after clawing his way up from the 36th starting position to break the Martinsville record for winning from the lowest grid position. After opening his Winston Cup account at Bristol earlier this year, Busch claimed his second short-track triumph by less than two car lengths over Johnny Benson and even survived a lurid spin 180 laps into the event to remain in contention.

While there was elation in the Roush camp, whose cars have now won seven times this year, one more than Hendrick Motorsports, there were distinct mixed feelings in the MBV Motorsports camp as Benson mulled over his third career runner-up finish.

After starting eleventh in the #10 Valvoline Pontiac, Benson remained a factor for most of the day despite dropping to the tail of the top 20 when he lost track position during a lap 42 pitstop. Still searching for his first career Winston Cup victory in his seventh full season on the circuit, the Grand Rapids, Michigan native moved into the top five by staying out whilst others pitted on lap 206 and was able to use the seventh of twelve caution periods on lap 226 to pit and regain strategy parity with the rest of the leaders.

Following a superb pitstop on lap 245 by the Valvoline crew, Benson was able to break clear of a titanic scrap for second place and hunt down leader and defending Old Dominion 500 Champion Ricky Craven on lap 373. However Benson's stay at the front of the pack lasted only 16 laps before Busch swept by into a lead he was destined not to lose.

Benson did not give in easily and after dropping back behind Craven to third prior to the final caution period of the day on lap 424, he launched a final bid for victory by re-passing Craven on lap 452 and paring down Busch's semi-comfortable ten-car length lead. With their cars virtually even and traffic falling kindly for the leader, it took Benson until the final ten laps before he clawed his way onto the rear bumper of the #97 machine.

Once the two leaders were joined, Busch resolutely defended his position as Benson gave his rival one or two love-taps for good measure. After shadowing the leader passed the slower traffic for several laps, it wasn't until Busch was momentarily baulked by Todd Bodine on lap 495 did the fun really begin.

Capitalising on Busch's slight lift, Benson pounced low going into turn one only to find Busch blocking his path. With Bodine cleared, the two began swapping lanes several times a lap as Benson first tried high, then low, then high again. On the final lap Benson tried one more time to grasp the lead and swooped low under Busch in turn one. However that moved cost the #10 Pontiac driver essential exit speed and he was unable to draw alongside again. As Busch celebrated, Benson tried hard to look upbeat about what was his best performance in a trying year for the MBV team and must now move on to the Atlanta Motor Speedway to continue his quest for a maiden NWC victory.

Finishing more than two seconds behind Benson in third spot was the #28 Ford of Ricky Rudd who drove a remarkable race following a lap seven puncture which put him two laps down to the rest of the field. Thanks to a pair of cautions in the first 50 laps, Rudd was able to claim a lap back on each occasion as he duked it out with polesitter and early race leader Ryan Newman for the first lap and then the Jasper Motorsports Ford of Dave Blaney for his second lap.

By lap 51 the black Havoline Ford was on the tail end of the lead lap and from that point on it was all-uphill for a team who are said to be in a somewhat fragile state behind the scenes. From 14th on lap 420, Rudd passed car after car, as the race wound down with his Robert Yates owned Ford coming on stronger than ever in the closing stages. On lap 465 Rudd moved passed Jimmie Johnson to take sixth and then passed the fading Craven for fifth some ten laps later. Battling duo Dale Earnhardt Jr and Ward Burton were the next targets and as the laps wound down, Rudd closed in and although the #8 Chevy and the #22 Dodge had been competitive all day, neither had an answer for Rudd, who sailed passed in the final ten laps.

Dale Jr succeeded in holding off Burton's Caterpillar Dodge for fourth place and was pleased with one of his best Winston Cup showings at Martinsville to date. Although he didn't lead a lap, Dale Jr was a constant presence in the top ten all day and provided some of the best racing of the day when he and Geoffrey Bodine when door to door for the lead on lap245 only to push each other wide and let Craven passed both of them and then later in the race when he and Benson led a seven car battle for second spot.

After falling to seventh following the final round of pitstops with 80 laps to go, 'Little E' was able to fight past Newman, Craven and Johnson in swift succession and then pass and hold off a determined Burton who was enjoying his best run since winning at New Hampshire in September and led a race high 145 laps.

After clinging to the coattails of the Budweiser Chevy for several laps, Burton faded away to the tune of three seconds and was left to rue a missed opportunity when he elected not to pit under caution whilst leading on lap 205. Although Ward and several other contenders, including his brother Jeff, Busch Benson, Craven, Johnson and Jeff Gordon, were able to make a yellow-flag pitstop on lap 226, Ward dropped to the bottom of the top ten and was never able to regain track position.

Jimmie Johnson enjoyed a solid day to bring the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet home in sixth place, and with points leader Tony Stewart only finishing eleventh, he was able to reduce Stewart's unofficial points lead to 82 with just four races remaining.

Craven finished a disappointed seventh as his #32 Tide sponsored PPI Motorsports Ford faded away in the final 100 laps. However the New Englander gave a plucky defence of his title from 14th place on the grid, not concerning himself with his position in the early going and then bursting into the top five just after the 200 lap mark when he was one of the ten drivers not to pit under the sixth caution. With fuel consumption not an immediate concern and a good set of tyres, Craven found himself able to compete with the front runners for the first time this weekend and capitalised brilliantly on some traditional Martinsville argy-bargy when Earnhardt Jr, Bodine and Gordon all slowed each other down while scrapping for the lead on lap 245. In one lap Craven went from fourth to first and then proceeded to open up a two second lead over the field before the tenth caution period slowed the action on lap 343.

Leading a total of 129 laps, second only to Ward Burton on the day, Craven finally lost the lead to Benson on lap 373 and gradually slipped down the order, finishing almost eight second behind Busch and only just ahead of Dale Jarrett.

Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin rounded out the top ten with the latter two gaining a couple of valuable Championship points on Stewart, who led two laps but was never happy with the handling of his #20 Home Depot Pontiac in traffic and finished eleventh. Martin remains third in the overall standings, 123 points behind Stewart while Wallace moved past his teammate, Ryan Newman, into fourth overall, 174 behind Stewart.

Newman, who dominated practice and qualifying, leading three out of four sessions, led the field away from the start and held top spot for 33 laps before Burton moved ahead. After losing the lead, Newman was never able to get comfortable with his car and eventually dropped off the lead lap to finish 15th, out of the top ten for the first time since the first week of September.

Stewart led home his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Martinsville spring race winner Bobby Labonte while John Andretti survived an early race spin to record a well-deserved 13th place finish. Mike Bliss scored his best ever Winston Cup finish with a creditable 14th place effort in the #40 Coors Light Dodge and Chip Ganassi still has one eye on the 2002 Winston Cup Owner's Championship even though the drivers title is now an impossibility.

Even though there was contact and spins aplenty, only Hideo Fukuyama and Bill Elliott made hard contact with the wall in separate single car incidents. With no mechanical retirements, they were the only two drivers who failed to finish, Elliott 42nd having completed 424 laps and Fukuyama 43rd after completing 400.

The race was also noticeable for its lack of extended pitstops as nearly every spinner somehow got away without and serious damage. There were countless bent panels of course, but in what must be some kind of Martinsville record, no less than 41 of the 43 starters were within five laps of the leader at the end of the race.

This statistic meant that any problem under green flag conditions could have disastrous affects as Jeff Gordon found out. While Rudd was able to make up his laps, Gordon had no such luck when he suffered some excessive tyre rubbing and bent front and rear bodywork in his physical dice with Bodine and Earnhardt Jr. The #24 DuPont Chevrolet made its way onto pit road on lap 250, just before Bodine spun the #23 Hills Bros. Dodge he was driving for Kenny Wallace who was occupied in the rain-delayed Busch Series race at Memphis.

Gordon lost three laps as his Hendrick Motorsports crew frantically changed tyres and taped up the offending bodywork but the defending NWC Champion couldn't make up his deficit and came home 36th. Although he remains sixth in the points table, he is now almost 300 points behind Stewart and out of the title picture barring a truly miraculous twist of fate.

Next week the Winston Cup Series travels to the ultra quick Atlanta Motor Speedway where the event organisers have promised at least 30 lead changes. Should be good.