DAYTONA BEACH -- Jeff Burton saw it coming. So did Bill Elliott. So did Mark Martin. So did Rusty Wallace. So did 200,000 fans at the Daytona International Speedway and a national television audience. And for that matter, so did Johnny Benson.
Although his car was damaged in a practice crash Saturday, Dale Jarrett was too fast to finish second to Benson in yesterday's Daytona 500. So with four laps remaining in the Great American Race, Jarrett turned expectations into reality with a pass that took him all the way to Victory Lane and a stock car-record payday of $2,277,975.
"I had a feeling Dale Jarrett was going to get by him," Burton said after finishing second. "I knew what Dale Jarrett was going to do. His car really accelerates well."
Benson, whose team barely made the 43-car starting lineup and landed a full-time sponsor just 12 hours before the start of the race, was a longshot against the world in the closing laps. His Pontiac Grand Prix stayed out front for 39 laps, but Jarrett was never more than a few feet off his back bumper.
A caution for a five-car crash set-up a four-lap dash to the checkered flag, and that was the opportunity Jarrett needed to win his third Daytona 500 and kick off defense of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in impressive style.
Jarrett faked high in the first turn on the restart and Benson took the bait. As he veered right to block Jarrett's speeding Quality Care Ford Taurus, Jarrett made a hard left and got inside Benson. After that, it was a mere formality.
"I knew Johnny was going to try to block me wherever I went," the winner said. "I knew that he knew it was critical time, especially with the horsepower I had. The car came up to speed really well and Johnny made just enough of a move when I faked to the outside that it let me get down to the inside. I came down off the banking [in the second turn] and I got a big head of steam.
"I was confident once I got out front that they couldn't pass me because my car was that fast."
Benson never had a chance, especially against a swarm of five Fords committed to ganging up on the driver who has never had a top-three finish in 129 career starts. Once Jarrett opened the door, Benson couldn't get back in line until he was in 12th place.
"I wish I had a little more than I had, but that's all I had," Benson said after finishing 12th. "I knew what they were going to do, and I did everything I could to prevent it. Dale's car was just too strong coming off Turn 2, and he got underneath me.
"I knew that was going to happen two laps before it went green [after the caution]. …