MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Dale Jarrett figured he had the choice between a decent finish and possibly a victory. It was an easy call.
Jarrett debunked the supertire strategy with five laps to go Sunday, using a set of tires 50 laps fresher than those of teammate Ricky Rudd to pass Rudd with five laps left and win the Virginia 500 Winston Cup race.
Jarrett, who never led until sneaking his Ford inside that of Rudd entering the first turn, won for the third time this season and for the first time in 30 career starts at tight, nasty Martinsville Speedway.
"I knew some guys behind us would get some tires, so I was banking on enough of them coming that we wouldn't get all the way at the very back," Jarrett said about giving up sixth place to pit with 87 laps to go.
"And I knew that we didn't have a chance with what I had on, so there was no reason to sit out there and just run for that track position.
"I knew we had a good race car."
One day after Scott Riggs drove the final 151 laps on the same tires to victory in the Craftsman Truck Series race, Jarrett proved the thinking that Goodyear's harder new tires don't made changing optional.
"Tires won the race," Jeff Burton said.
"There was a lot said about not needing tires today, but anytime I can get them, I want them."
Rudd, who had led for 50 laps, hung on for second, followed by Burton's Ford, Bobby Hamilton's Chevrolet and Sterling Marlin's Dodge.
Jarrett and most everyone else pitted for four tires and gas with 135 laps to go, but when a caution flew again on lap 413, Jarrett pointed his car to pit road for the tires and some slight, but needed adjustments.
On the prior stop, he said, the adjustments "upset my car terribly."
Rudd and most of the other leaders stayed out, but Jarrett lost only five spots. Gradually working his way through the field, he passed Jeff Gordon for fourth with 41 laps to go and got by Marlin several laps later.
When Rudd caught lapped traffic with about 20 laps to go, it gave Jarrett a chance to close what had been a one-second gap. He moved up to Rudd's bumper with about 10 laps left, then passed him for the victory.
Rudd, who was seeking his first victory since he won here 2 1/2 years ago, said he couldn't give up his lead after moving to the front.
"The decision was made way back not to get tires," he said.
"They had the restarts at the end and we couldn't come in at that point. We either got outsmarted or they made a luckier call."
The victory enabled Jarrett to increase his championship points lead to 123 over Gordon, who faded in the final laps and finished 12th.
For Burton, a championship contender each of the past four seasons, it was easily the best finish of the season. His previous best was 18th.
"This is the start of our season right here," he said.
Burton also showed how important new tires can be, giving up second place to take on a new set with 49 laps to go and then climbing from 14th place to third. He also moved from 35th to 29th in the points race.
"If the caution comes out with 10 laps to go, we have a great chance to win the race," Burton said. "That's why we pitted."
Hamilton, who led the most laps with 130, also got burned by his decision not to pit midway through the race, fading from the lead to out of contention before rallying on newer tires near the end.
"We made that one call to stay out a long time. It bit us," he said.
Matt Kenseth finished sixth, followed by Joe Gibbs teammates Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte in Pontiacs, Jimmy Spencer and Jerry Nadeau.
The race was a classic short-track duel on the 0.526-mile oval, featuring 15 lead changes and 12 cautions that slowed things for 98 laps.
It ended with 17 cars on the lead lap, a track record.