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Aumann: Martin's WGI mark came at Dallenbach's expense

August 12, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Wally Dallenbach made nine starts at Watkins Glen and finished in the top 10 in seven of them. (Getty Images)

Dallenbach finished second in two of Martin's three wins at N.Y. road course

Mark Martin remains the only driver to win three consecutive Cup races at Watkins Glen from the pole. And in two of those three races, the driver chasing him at the finish was Wally Dallenbach, first as a teammate, then as a rival.

In the 1995 Bud at the Glen, Dallenbach came very close to winning his first Cup race. But his efforts were thwarted twice, once by fumes inside his car that made him ill and then by a late-race caution that wiped out what might have been an insurmountable lead.

"I knew Mark was going to be hard to hold off. I had used my brakes hard for those laps I was leading. It looked like Mark had a lot more brake at the end, and that's critical."

--WALLY DALLENBACH

Dallenbach, a native of New Jersey who grew up in Colorado, came up through the open-wheel and sports car ranks, winning the 1985 Trans-Am championship for Jack Roush and multiple endurance races at Daytona and Sebring.

Dallenbach eventually found his way to NASCAR in 1991, driving for Junie Donlavey. The following season, Roush hired Dallenbach as a teammate to Martin, and they wound up finishing 1-2 at Watkins Glen in 1993.

After being let go by Roush at the end of the season, Dallenbach landed in the No. 43 Petty Enterprises Pontiac for 1994. But despite a fourth-place finish at Sonoma, he failed to qualify six times. And after running 14th at the Glen, Dallenbach was replaced by John Andretti.

So when the series returned to Watkins Glen in 1995, Dallenbach was helmet in hand, hoping to find an owner interested in hiring a skilled road racer in a one-off situation. He found exactly what he was looking for in Bill Davis.

To that point, neither Randy LaJoie nor Jimmy Hensley had been able to crack the top 10 in Davis' No. 22 Pontiac. So when Dallenbach qualified 12th, expectations weren't particularly high. And it certainly didn't help he couldn't get any fresh air in the car during the first half of the race, especially when running behind other cars.

"Smoke was really getting to me," Dallenbach said. "I got really sick. Slowing down during the first caution period really helped. I could hold my hand out the window and direct some air onto my face."

While Dallenbach was inhaling fumes, Rusty Wallace was left fuming. Wallace had been right on Martin's bumper for much of the race, and when the caution came out on Lap 61 because Robert Pressley stalled on the track, several lead lap cars headed for pit road.

Martin beat Wallace and Geoff Bodine out of the pits, but he slowed suddenly at the exit to allow the rest of the cars on the track to pass. That set off a chain-reaction avoidance crash behind him between Wallace and Bodine, with Wallace receiving enough front-end damage that he lost two laps -- and any chance at victory -- while undergoing repairs.

"I hate it happened," Martin said. "I felt I had to slow down. Rusty got upset, and I understand, because he ran good and might have won. He came by after the race and congratulated me. Everything is OK."

Dallenbach restarted behind Jeff Gordon and four laps later, streaked past Gordon to take the lead. Pulling away from the field, Dallenbach built up a five-second lead on Martin and appeared to be on his way to a huge upset.

However, Todd Bodine spun and dumped oil on the track with 11 laps to go, bringing out the final caution of the day and allowing Martin's Ford to close in on the back bumper of Dallenbach's Pontiac.

When the green dropped, Dallenbach staved off several passing attempts by Martin, but he realized that it was only a matter of time before Martin would get by. And that happened on Lap 84, when Martin ducked inside of Dallenbach in Turn 1 and made a clean pass for the lead.

"I knew Mark was going to be hard to hold off," Dallenbach said. "I had used my brakes hard for those laps I was leading. It looked like Mark had a lot more brake at the end, and that's critical.

"I couldn't do anything with him in Turn 1. I could have blocked him, but it's just a matter of time until someone gets around you when their brakes are so much better."

Dallenbach gamely stayed in Martin's tire tracks the rest of the way but never got close enough to challenge, instead settling for second at the line. Still, Martin was impressed by his ex-teammate's run.

"Wally was really hauling," Martin said. "I'd have loved to seen him win, but not at our expense. Without the last yellow, I don't know whether I could have caught him or not. I was gaining, but he was out there pretty good."

Team owner Davis concurred.

"No one in racing needed a good finish more than us," Davis said. "Wally really did the job. We think we've got a good race team, and now we'll come to work feeling a lot better about ourselves.

"Mark and his guys are kings up here. If you run second to them, you've done a good job."

For Dallenbach, it was a bit of vindication. It also eventually led to rides with Bud Moore, Felix Sabates and Rick Hendrick -- although Dallenbach never came as close to winning again as he did that day at Watkins Glen.

"I proved I could do it, anyway," Dallenbach said. It feels good to just be able to get in a race car and drive it hard."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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