Dale Jarrett scored his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory at the demanding Martinsville Speedway and his third of the 2001 season when he passed Robert Yates Racing team-mate Ricky Rudd with just six laps to go to take Sunday's Virginia 500 and gain some breathing space over Jeff Gordon in the points chase.

Dale Jarrett may have only led six laps in Sunday's 500-lap Virginia 500 at the punishing half-mile Martinsville Speedway but those were the laps that counted as he passed team-mate Ricky Rudd on lap 494 to take his No.88 UPS Ford to victory lane for the 27th time in his NASCAR Winston Cup career and the third time in the last four races as he added to his previous 2001 triumphs at Darlington and Texas.

In a punishing race that saw many drivers complain of almost unbearable cockpit temperatures and a total of 12 caution periods, mostly for metal-bending incidents that reduced many cars to distinctly second-hand looking pieces of machinery, Jarrett's UPS Ford looked remarkably new and the end of the race, a testament to his skill in keeping out f trouble and preserving his car until the end.

Prior to Jarrett's late charge, in which he went from fourth on the final re-start, taken on lap 457, to pass Jeff Gordon, Sterling Marlin and then finally Rudd, momentum had shifted greatly as the race wore on. Rusty Wallace had led the opening 58 laps in his Penske Racing Miller Lite Ford before Matt Kenseth, Ricky Craven, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday all took turns at the front before the consistency of Bobby Hamilton began to pay off, the No.55 Square D Chevrolet driver taking the lead on lap 150 and only surrendering it to Marlin some 31 laps later.

Jarrett meanwhile spent the first 300 laps steadily working his way up from his 13th starting slot, never out of the top 15 but never higher than third as other drivers worked their way to the front when set-up allowed.

Hamilton and the resurgent Jeff Burton were the two drivers who were able to gain some kind of control over proceedings, Hamilton eventually leading a race-high 130-laps as he used the all important track-position to hold off a number of challenges from drivers on newer tyres while Burton led laps 317-444 in the much improved No.99 Roush Racing Ford before losing the lead to Rudd on lap 445.

Rudd, who brilliantly fought back from a lap down early in the race when his No.28 machine lost its brakes, had looked set to take his first Winston Cup victory since he triumphed at Martinsville in October 1998 while still driving for his own team but he had no answer for his team-mate in the closing stages as Jarrett claimed second on lap 475 and then set about reducing Rudd's handy, ten car length advantage at the head of the field.

The two were together by lap 490 and despite Rudd's best efforts, Jarrett forced his way through and then increased his lead to eight tenths of a second when the chequered flag finally fell after nearly four hours of gruelling racing.

Jarrett's third win in the last four races increases his lead of Jeff Gordon in the points standings to an impressive 123 points after the No.24 DuPont Chevrolet driver could only manage twelfth spot, dropping from third on the final re-start as his car became very loose.

Following Rudd home in third place was Jeff Burton, who scored both his and Roush Racing's best result of the year and led his first laps of 2001(!) as he moved inside the top 30 in the points standings while Hamilton and Marlin completed the top five.

Matt Kenseth finished sixth after just avoiding the biggest accident of the day on lap 112 when Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Kevin Harvick and Buckshot Jones got together in Turn Two while Joe Gibbs Racing enjoyed one of their better days of a thus far dismal 2001 season as Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte came home in seventh and eighth places. Jimmy Spencer's Travis Carter owned Ford may have looked as though the only place fit for it after the race was a scrap-yard but 'Mr Excitement' hustled is battered machine all day to a well deserved ninth spot, ahead of Jerry Nadeau who survived a harmless spin to record just his second top ten finish of the year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr had his best run by far a Martinsville with eleventh place in the Budweiser sponsored machine after passing Gordon late in the race while Rusty Wallace, who never fully recovered after being tapped into a spin on lap 80, came home 13th.

Bill Elliott, Stacy Compton, Joe Nemechek and Andy Houston completed the list of finishers who completed the full 500-laps, the last named taking the honour of top rookie finisher at a track that favours experience more than any other.

A little further down the order, Johnny Benson came home a disappointing 20th while Terry Labonte, the subject of recent retirement rumours, finished 23rd. Jeremy Mayfield sustained two punctures as he struggle to 30th place, ten laps adrift of the winner while the list of those who made contact with the wall of another driver included Waltrip (24th), Schrader (25th), Atwood (26th), Hornaday (27th), Craven (28th), Mike Wallace (31st), Mike Skinner (32nd), Kurt Busch (34th), John Andretti (35th), Brett Bodine (36th), Kenny Wallace (37th) and Mark Martin who led more than 40 laps before striking trouble on lap 270 and falling back to a miserable 39th.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series now takes a rare weekend off as the drivers and teams lick their wounds and prepare for first trip of the season to the awesome 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.