It's crunch time for Justin Allgaier.
With only eight races left to qualify for this year's NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Central Illinois native is languishing in 29th place in the points standings and desperately needing a victory in one of the remaining outings to make the Chase field.
There's also another matter where time is running out and a speedy performance is of the essence.
"My contract is up at the end of this year, so we're still trying to figure all of the pieces out, still kind of working through all that," said Allgaier.
Allgaier's Sprint Cup effort is sponsored by Brandt, a giant multi-national agribusiness concern headquartered in Springfield. Allgaier is hoping to see that arrangement continue beyond this season.
"Obviously the ultimate goal would be to do what we're doing again and I have a great relationship with Brandt," he said. "I've been very fortunate to have them behind me, so I would hope we could keep putting something together. Their goal would be to have an entirely ag-based car. I know they haven't given up on that dream and they've been actively seeking partners to come in and be a part of the program."
With Allgaier competing in the high-pressure, ultra-competitive world of multi-million dollar racing teams at NASCAR's elite level, it's vital that the pieces fall into place sooner than later.
Off the track, competition is fierce among the teams for sponsorship dollars. Those dollars are then used to compete for and attract the best engineers and fabricators available to put a competitive car on the track. (Those are "the guys back in the shop" who the winning driver always thanks in victory lane on television on Sunday afternoon. It's not lip service; it's truly a "team sport"). Many of the teams are already budgeted with people in place and plans underway for the 2016 season.
Allgaier's HScott Motorsports team is a smaller Sprint Cup effort in a series dominated by the Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, Penske and Stewart-Haas powerhouses. It's the proverbial "little engine climbing the hill," struggling to churn toward the top.
"We've had our struggles being a smaller team," Allgaier said. "We have less resources, less people, all the different things that add up. I think my team owner, Harry Scott, has done a good job in that we're trying to do everything we can with what we have. We're going to try to keep growing and keep doing everything we can and hopefully we can get to that point where we can be a Hendrick Motorsports or a Joe Gibbs Racing."
Allgaier finished 29th in the Sprint Cup series in his rookie season a year ago. While this is only his second full season at the Sprint Cup level, he's been competing full-time in NASCAR since 2009 after winning an ARCA title in 2008.
He was the 2009 NASCAR Xfinity (then Nationwide) Series rookie of the year and won the first of his three NASCAR second-tier victories the following season.
His race winnings from over the past seven seasons in NASCAR will likely surpass the $14-million mark later this year with about half of that coming in his two seasons at the Sprint Cup level.
The Pantagraph spoke with Allgaier during his appearance at a DIRTcar Summer Nationals race at Lincoln Speedway earlier this month in which he raced a modified. Earlier that day, he was involved in the Sprint Cup rain-delayed marathon at Daytona that concluded in the wee hours of the morning.
"I think I went to bed at five or six and got back up at 8:30 and got on a plane to come up here," said Allgaier, who is from nearby Riverton. "So, short night, but it's worth it coming back here and meeting with the fans. I love getting out here, getting dirty slinging some dirt around and having fun."
Fun aside, it was back to business last weekend at Kentucky where Allgaier finished 24th. The Sprint Cup Series continues this weekend at New Hampshire as NASCAR throttles toward its stretch run.
"I'm very blessed to do what I do," Allgaier said. "At the end of the day, we're just trying to do everything we can. If we do that and know we gave 100 percent, that's all you can ever do."