Justin Allgaier has some ground to make up to catch the four-driver breakaway atop the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
And for Allgaier, there's no better place than his home track at Chicagoland Speedway.
The Riverton, Ill., native has plenty of motivation to defend his Chicagoland Speedway win from a year ago in Sunday's STP 300 (2 p.m. ESPN), the first of two Nationwide races this season at the 1.5-mile track.
Allgaier ranks fifth in the standings, but he isn't exactly nipping at the heels of the tour's stalwart top four: points leader Elliott Sadler, top rookie Austin Dillon, defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish is the only one of the top four without a win this season, but he holds a hefty 41-point cushion over Allgaier.
Besides the hopes of injecting himself back into the title race, Allgaier has extra incentive to impress sponsor Brandt, an agriculture product manufacturer from Springfield, Ill, in its backyard.
"It gives me the chance to hang out with all of the folks who allow me to do what I do every weekend, which is something I'm extremely grateful for," said Allgaier, who enters Sunday's 300-miler with four straight top-10 finishes. "I'd love nothing more than to be able to repeat what we did last year and take all of the guests to Victory Lane with us."
Allgaier's triumph last year at Chicagoland wasn't short on drama. He took the lead when Carl Edwards ran out of fuel in the final lap, then moments later out-coasted Edwards to the checkered flag when his own tank went dry.
Four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars competed in the STP 300 last year; this season, Kyle Busch is the only Sprint Cup championship contender on the entry list.
Still, making inroads on an extra-motivated top four won't be any easier for Allgaier. The series' lead quartet were the top finishing Nationwide Series regulars last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, qualifying them for this weekend's Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus.
The highest finishing driver among those four will bring home the six-figure payday, won last Saturday by Dillon with his third-place finish in New England. Dillon is eligible for a cool $1 million if he sweeps all four rounds of the program.
"I think the guys racing for the Dash 4 Cash will be up front racing for the win," said Dillon, who prevailed last September at Chicagoland on the way to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. "I think between me, Stenhouse, Elliott and Hornish, and you also have Kyle Busch up there running, there's going to be some great racing going on, and especially for that extra bonus."
There's something to be said for longevity. In Todd Bodine's case, being competitive counts for even more.
Bodine will make his 200th start in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition in Saturday's American Ethanol 225 (7 p.m., SPEED) at Chicagoland Speedway. The milestone will make the 48-year-old veteran the first driver to make at least 200 starts in all three NASCAR national series.
"It's a great stat, a great place to be in my career," said Bodine, the 2006 and 2010 truck series champ. "When I got started, I never dreamed of getting to this point. I didn't know as a kid where it was going to go or what it was going to lead to, I just know I wanted to go fast and go in circles. I've been very fortunate to have a long, successful career in a sport that I love. And to be able to do it in three different series, it's a pretty neat deal."
Bodine -- who's mired in 11th place in the standings -- hasn't had the most stellar season thus far, but he did return to Victory Lane for the first time since September 2010 with a rain-shortened win last month at Dover International Speedway.
After splitting a shaky 2011 between Germain Racing and the former Randy Moss-owned team, Bodine has found a comfortable landing place this year with Red Horse Racing's team owner Tom DeLoach and crew chief Rick Gay Jr.
"Rick and myself have been running well, but we've just had some bad luck," Bodine said, "but everything is there (for us) to do this and run up front, and I really believe we can."
Red Horse teammate Timothy Peters broke into the win column last week at Iowa Speedway, stretching his points lead and becoming the truck series' eighth different winner in nine events. Peters leads second-place Justin Lofton, the winner earlier this season at Charlotte, by 12 points and sits 14 points ahead of top rookie Ty Dillon, who ranks third.