MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Mark Martin was more than happy to take over the lead when the race leaders headed for pit road with 64 laps to go in the Goody's 500.
After spending all day fighting with his car just to keep up, Martin hoped he could make the position last long enough to hang on against an inevitable rush of contenders to the front and at least come away with a hard-earned top 10 finish.
When no one even challenged him down the stretch Sunday, even though he was driving on much older tires because of his late gamble, he got much more.
Martin won the caution-filled Winston Cup race at Martinsville Speedway, only his second victory in 29 starts on a track he admits to always struggling on.
''We stole one today,'' Martin said after beating Jack Roush teammate Jeff Burton by 1.5 seconds. ''For my team to win at Martinsville with me is the biggest victory that they could ever have, because I'm terrible here and I know it.''
Martin was a non-factor as Rusty Wallace dominated the first 436 laps around the tight .526-mile oval. But when Wallace, Dale Earnhardt and Ward Burton pitted with 64 laps to go, the fourth-pace Martin didn't consider following them in.
''There was no question we were staying out because we had actually pitted when other guys hadn't hoping to have fresh tires or something,'' he said.
Martin's stop came after 411 laps, 25 circuits earlier than the leaders. But his car was running better than it had all day, and it was more than enough.
''I was hoping to get a top 10 finish, and nobody came and nobody came and nobody came,'' he said. ''Right now, this feels like the biggest win of my career.''
His 32nd career victory was one he wanted to share with many.
''There's so much to say here,'' he said in Victory Lane. ''Special thanks to Jeff Burton and (Burton's crew chief) Frank Stoddard. We ran so pitiful in practice yesterday that we went to 'em begging to help us and they did.''
Burton finished an improbable second after a tough day of his own, followed by Michael Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and defending points champion Dale Jarrett.
It was the first 1-2 finish for Roush drivers since August 1998 at Bristol.
''Me finishing second today is borderline a felony,'' said Burton, a native of South Boston, about 60 miles from the track. ''We might need to spend a few hours in jail before we go home, because we didn't deserve to finish second.''
Wallace, who led 343 laps, wound up 10th in his 500th career start.
The finish was set up when Jerry Nadeau hit the wall in turns three and four on the 436th lap. The crash brought out the 15th of a track record-tying 17 cautions and provided a fitting turning point on a tough day for sheet metal.
The cautions slowed traffic for 112 of the 500 laps, and even ''The Intimidator'' himself said he was disgusted with all the bumping to took place.
''What a bunch of jerks,'' Earnhardt said. ''I'm talking about the way everybody raced today. I don't think the fastest car won, but the smartest man did.''
Earnhardt finished ninth while Wallace, who had routinely pulled away from his challengers all day, was nowhere near as strong after his four-tire pit stop.
''It was all track position,'' Wallace said. ''With 50 and 60 laps to go, I should never have pitted.''
Wallace led 230 of the first 253 laps until brake heat melted the seal around his right front tire, causing it to lose air and Wallace to nearly crash before limping around the track and into the pits under a green flag. He got four tires, but was two laps down in 31st position when he got back onto the track.
He needed only 73 laps to get both of them back, one by blazing through the field and the other thanks to an opportune caution with the leaders in the pits.
But he couldn't duplicate the rally on fresh tires after Martin went ahead.
''I thought we had the best car out there all day,'' said Wallace, who started from the pole. ''It was red-hot and it's unfortunate. That's all I can say.''
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