Denny Hamlin is targeting victory at Fontana this weekend as he vows to stay in close contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title, having lost the Chase lead last week.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver held the lead of the standings entering the championship play-off and remained in front until last weekend at Kansas, where Jimmie Johnson's second place and Hamlin's 12th, vaulted the reigning champion ahead and to the top of the Chase. Hamlin has been setting targets for finishing positions for the past three weeks but believes Fontana offers him a first chance of winning during the playoff series and cutting down the eight-point gap to Johnson in the championship.
Despite poor results on his last two visits to Fontana, Hamlin has led laps in both outings having started from pole and fought for victory a year ago before crashing during a restart and blowing his title hopes.
"I don't think this is a race track where I feel like I don't want to lose a certain amount of points," said Hamlin. "I want to go out there and close back in on the lead. We feel like we can come to California and win. We've been in contention to win a couple of these races here. I come here to finish number one, nowhere else."
Out of the six tracks remaining this year, Hamlin has won at two of them, Martinsville and Texas. He believes he has already passed his worst tracks and is optimistic about coming races, where he expects to show his team's strength and contend for more victories.
"I think all of these tracks from here on out are good race tracks for us," said Hamlin. "There's really no weak spot, I feel like, in our programme for the next four to six weeks. I think that we made it past the big hurdles for us and we only lost 18 points to Jimmie over the last three races and now it's time to go out there and show why we are in this position."
Hamlin says it is still too early to start thinking about bonus points and team work, and reckons only in a couple of weeks will they know where they really are in terms of their championship hopes.
"I really don't watch Chase points right at this point," Hamlin said. "If we're, once we get down to three races to go, where we need five points then we're going to be calling on our teammate if he's in front of us or things like that. We're not really going to chase those points until we really see where we stack up and that's going to be five or six races in."
Hamlin is currently enjoying his best shot at the Sprint Cup title and ties Chase leader Johnson for number of wins during the season with six apiece.