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Tuesday, May 29
Dallenbach close to inking a deal
By Jerry Bonkowski

After leaving the Galaxy, Wally Dallenbach is back on solid Earth. And now he's looking at what might be two out-of-this-world offers to resume his long racing career.

Wally Dallenbach
Dallenbach had six top-10s and finished 18th in points for Hendrick in 1999.

When the Galaxy Motorsports racing team folded out from under him just prior to the start of this season, it left Dallenbach sitting on the Winston Cup sidelines, a place where he's been ever since.

But the Florida resident is in talks regarding at least two major deals that not only would jump-start his racing career, they'd put him in the type of well-financed situation that he hasn't enjoyed since he drove a Winston Cup car for legendary team owner Rick Hendrick in 1998 and 1999.

"We've got a lot of irons in the fires right now," Dallenbach said recently.

First and foremost, and the deal that looks the most promising, is an opportunity to leave Winston Cup and compete full-time in the IRL starting next year, joining Sam Hornish Jr. on the well-financed Indianapolis-based Pennzoil-sponsored Panther Racing team. Dallenbach and Panther have been in negotiations for the last month or so.

"Panther and myself have been working real hard on the IRL program," Dallenbach said. "Things look pretty optimistic there."

But a new player has come into the picture that gives Dallenbach a bit more latitude and another racing option. While he won't reveal the name of the team or its owner, another Winston Cup situation has been presented to him to consider for next season.

"A Winston Cup opportunity kind of has arisen recently, and I think there's some possibilities there," Dallenbach said. "Now, this (both the IRL and Cup programs) is all for next year. I would think that if anything was put together as far as next year goes, we'd probably run some races this year ... just to get our feet wet.

"Basically, we have a lot of balls in the air and we're just waiting for someone to sign off on something."

On the surface, Dallenbach would appear to have a better future with Panther Racing, although he hasn't been in an Indy car for more than 10 years. Even so, Panther is quite interested in having Dallenbach join the team, as is Indy Racing League president and founder Tony George, who is also chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"The meetings with Panther went real well, and the people at Indianapolis Motor Speedway really helped out a lot," said Dallenbach, who turned 38 last week. "They really laid out the red carpet for this guy, which was nice to see that they're on my side and they'd like me to be there. It was nice to see that."

That's a much different feeling than the one Dallenbach had more than two months ago, when he had few options in his racing career after the Galaxy situation went away.

"I knew nothing was going to happen for a long time back in March," Dallenbach said. "It's just not the time of year to be looking for work, when the first race of the year has passed. I knew we'd just have to ride this thing out, and things are starting to shake loose and starting to happen. I'm pretty optimistic about both things.

"The frustration of not racing has gone away somewhat, but I don't know if it ever goes away completely. It's one of those things where I want to drive and can't wait to get back in a race car.

"But, I also think it's important to myself that it needs to be the right situation. I mean I'll wait for that right situation. The last time I was in this position, I got the best Cup ride of my career with Rick Hendrick. I think everything will work out, you just have to get through the lean times while it's working out."

Deciding whether to drive either in the IRL or to return to Winston Cup competition is a tough call for Dallenbach.

"That's a very tough question to answer because if I was in a competitive ride in Cup and we were a top-10 or top-15 team week in and week out, I'd love to do Cup," he said. "But, on the other hand, with Panther I know I'm getting with a winning team. So, I'm pretty excited about the possibilities.

"There's going to be a big learning curve for me. It's been a long time since I've been in an open wheel car, over 10 years, and as far as my oval experience in an Indy car, it's zilch. So, there's going to be a lot to learn there, but at least I know I'm with one of the best teams in the business. So, that learning curve takes less time when you're with really good people."

Aside from just securing a ride for next year, Dallenbach also is looking for some security, especially if the possibility of retirement is just around the corner.

"If I do go to the IRL, I'd love to have a three-year contract. And, if it's a Cup deal, I want to do the same thing. Whatever that next deal is, I want to be able to finish out my career, so it's important to ride these things out. I'm anxious to get back in a race car, but I want it to be a good one. I'm pretty confident that something's going to pop here within the next two to three weeks.

"I really have tried to work hard on the Panther IRL deal. And now that this other Cup thing has kind of surfaced, and the financing sounds like it's there for the equipment and the people, I'd certainly be interested in that."

New opportunities could still present themselves, especially as the NASCAR season moves along. "Things are starting to break in Cup, there are people starting to talk and I'm starting to talk to them. It's getting time to where there'll be some changes made (underperforming drivers on some teams may be fired) in the next month or two, and I'll be ready for it. If the other deal doesn't work out, I'll be ready to go."

Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for

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