DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Dale Jarrett shook hands with The King, and that meant almost as much as winning the Daytona 500 for the third time.

``That sent chills up and down my spine,'' Jarrett said of his meeting with Richard Petty after the race.

The defending Winston Cup champion wouldn't have gotten the chance if not for his winning pass of surprise contender Johnny Benson with just four laps to go in NASCAR's premier race.

But making the right move at the right time is what Jarrett does best. His victories are almost always big.

Of 23 in his career, seven have been majors. That's the way it is with racing royalty, something The King certainly realized.

``Petty made his way across pit road and shook my hand,'' said Jarrett, whose series championship last year was the third for his family.

His father, Ned, won two titles when he raced against Petty 40 years ago.

The younger Jarrett knows plenty about winning, too, much more than Benson, who has yet to drive to Victory Lane. He almost got there Sunday, and Jarrett almost wished he had.

``I wouldn't have felt bad to lose to Johnny Benson,'' Jarrett said. ``He's a good guy and they need a break.''

But it was Jarrett who got one when a caution flag slowed the field on the 194th of 200 laps at Daytona International Speedway. The green waved for the final time three laps later, and Jarrett did what most in the crowd of 190,000 figured he would, despite an accident that damaged his car at the final practice Saturday.

Powered by a Robert Yates Racing engine, he drove his repaired Ford to the low side of the high-banked second turn, blew by Benson and raced to a NASCAR record prize of $2.3 million from a $9.4 million purse.

Jarrett's timing was perfect. Two laps later, Jimmy Spencer hit the wall, and the race ended under caution.

``It was a good thing I was able to take the lead when I did,'' Jarrett said. ``I wasn't going to have much of chance.''

Benson had virtually none when Jarrett led the five-Ford assault on a lone Pontiac.

``I knew the Fords were going to gang up on us at the end,'' said Benson, who faded to 12th after Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin went by him. ``I just wish it would have stayed green, but you can't do anything about the yellow.''

Benson insisted the first of the final two caution flags cost him the race.

``If the green flag stays out, I would have been OK and I would have won this,'' said Benson, who hasn't done much in Winston Cup since winning the rookie of the year award in 1996.

Jarrett was dominant during the week leading up to the 500, easily winning the pole position in time trials and overpowering the field in a 25-lap race for last year's top qualifiers.

Even when he finished second to Bill Elliott's Ford in a 125-mile qualifying race, few doubted Jarrett was still the favorite over 500 miles. He lived up to his billing.

``I would never have dreamed when I came into this sport that I could win this race three times,'' Jarrett said in Victory Lane, where he was greeted by a burst of confetti and hugs from his crew.

Jarrett matched Bobby Allison's total victories in The Great American Race. Only Cale Yarborough (4) and Petty (7) have more.

Jarrett was always at or near the front in a race that lacked any drama until the last 50 laps. The drama was Saturday.

Jeff Gordon, who won Daytona from the pole last year, banged into the rear of Jarrett's Taurus as the two braked to avoid trouble in front of them. The bump sent Jarrett's car skidding onto the apron, where Elliott banged off the left front.

Todd Parrott, Jarrett's crew chief, considered going to a backup car, which would have forced Jarrett to start last in the 43-car field.

Instead, the team worked late into the night _ until NASCAR closed the garage area _ flew in help from its shop in Charlotte, N.C., and got back to work repairing the car when the garage opened at about 5 a.m.

``If Todd Parrott puts it out there, I have confidence in it,'' said Jarrett, who led a race-high 89 laps.

When the race began, Jarrett fell back to fourth as he got the feel of the car. He was back in the lead on the fifth lap.

``When we took off, I wanted to make sure we had everything back right,'' Jarrett said. ``But about four laps in, I knew the car was every bit as good as it had been.''

Benson, who secured a badly needed sponsor just hours before the race, led for 39 laps until Spencer hit Dale Earnhardt on the 193rd lap, bringing out a caution.

When the green flag waved on lap 197, Jarrett wasted no time. He faked high in turn two and, when Benson tried to block him, drove under Benson's car and into the lead for good.

Ford's sweep of the top five positions was its first in 37 years. The rout perhaps justified complaints by the General Motors teams that the redesigned Tauruses have an aerodynamic advantage over the new Monte Carlos.

NASCAR, however, wasn't ready to order any changes.

``Our man basis for our decisions are on race track performances,'' said Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's director of operations. ``It's a new ball game for Fords and Chevys.''

Parrott had a different response to the Chevy teams.

``Quick crying,'' he said, ``let's race.''