Nationwide points battle and 'Dash 4 Cash' at Chicagoland

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Updated: 7/19/2013 3:17 pm

So, is there any racing this weekend?

Yep. The Nationwide Series takes center stage on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

This will be the first of two Nationwide races at Chicagoland this season. The series will join Sprint Cup at this 1.5-mile racetrack on the second weekend in September.

The points battle for the Nationwide championship has heated up during the past month. Just 24 points separate the top-five drivers right now. The margin between leader Regan Smith and 10th-place Parker Kligerman is 69 markers.

Smith held a commanding 58-point lead when he won the June 15 event at Michigan, but after the last four races, his advantage has been trimmed to only five points over Sam Hornish Jr. Smith placed 32nd at Road America and then 30th at Kentucky before he finished eighth at both Daytona and New Hampshire.

"The past two weeks have been frustrating for our team," Smith said. "At Daytona and Loudon (N.H.), we ran well and in the top five. We've just been unable to put an entire race together and have it play out like we need to. Top-10's are good, but when you run top-three and top-five all day, it makes them difficult to accept. I won't say I don't think about the points. It's just that right now our main focus is getting back to maintaining positions in the closing laps and capitalizing on opportunities. If we can do that, the points will take care of itself."

Hornish finished 32nd at Michigan but has scored four straight top-10 runs since then.

"We have had fast Ford Mustangs everywhere that we've raced, and our intermediate track program is solid," Hornish said. "We've put a lot of effort into improving our mile and a half (track) performance, and we are looking forward to this weekend. I am confident and hopeful about the second half of the season."

Austin Dillon moved up to third in the standings (-12) after his third-place finish at New Hampshire. Dillon also collected the $100,000 "Dash 4 Cash" bonus from series-title sponsor Nationwide Insurance for being the highest- finishing point-eligible driver in the race. He won the cash award at New Hampshire last year as well.

"I'm very excited to be in the points position that we are right now, just because of how great the competition is in the Nationwide Series," Dillon said. "I would love to be first in points. You always would be. But I feel like you've got guys out there battling for points, and we're just kind of slipping in there, and that's where you want to be."

Justin Allgaier, an Illinois native, is fourth in points (-20), followed by Elliott Sadler (-24).

Chicagoland is the third of four races in this year's Dash 4 Cash. The final event will be on July 27 at Indianapolis. Dillon, Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and Michael Annett are eligible for the bonus at Chicagoland based on their finishing positions at New Hampshire.

Vickers finished second in the Nationwide race at New Hampshire and then notched a surprising victory in the Sprint Cup event there.

"Being a part of the Dash 4 Cash has added an extra element of excitement this week," Vickers said. "I'm thrilled that I'm going to be a part of it this week. Not only will we be going for the win, but we'll be battling it out for the $100,000 Nationwide Dash 4 Cash bonus."

Vickers moved up to sixth in Nationwide points (-46) following New Hampshire.

Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the STP 300. Joey Logano is the only Sprint Cup regular scheduled to compete in this race.

Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Sunday, July 21. Race: STP 300. Site: Chicagoland Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 3 p.m. ET. Laps: 200. Miles: 300. 2012 Winner: Elliott Sadler. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.

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