Like the other 42 drivers in the field for Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, is looking forward to tackling the 2-mile oval.
"I'm definitely focused on this weekend quite a bit," Hamlin said Tuesday during NASCAR's weekly teleconference.
"I'm going to spend most of my flight out to California studying previous races, different qualifying trends, things like that, to try to optimize the best-case scenario for this weekend."
In 10 starts at the track formerly known as California Speedway, Hamlin has one top five and four top-10 finishes at the track, with a best finish of third in the now-defunct fall race at the oval in 2008.
A solid finish for Hamlin and his team at Fontana would likely help make up some of the ground lost after a 33rd-place result in Bristol last weekend, falling 12 laps behind winner and teammate Kyle Busch due to his involvement in a lap 29 crash. He dropped from eighth to 17th in the Sprint Cup points standings following the race.
"Sitting 17th in points, it's not where we want to be by any means," Hamlin said.
"There's still a lot of work to be done. Obviously, we're trying to set ourselves up for a midseason run like we had last year."
The groundwork for a midseason run may come next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. Hamlin, a native of Midlothian, Va., has won the past three Sprint Cup races at the paperclip-shaped short-track.
"Martinsville's spring race always seems to be the springboard for our season," Hamlin said.
"Whenever we have struggles for the first five races or so, Martinsville falls that fifth or sixth race of the season for us, and that's when we hit our momentum, as soon as we get there.
"For us, we're looking to, at that racetrack in particular, be the one that kind of sets our season in motion. Hopefully it's no different this year because Martinsville, regardless of how many grandfather clocks you have there, how many wins, it's a track you love to win at. I'm going to just try to keep on winning."
However, he has his eyes on the five-time defending series champion and one of his teammates as the drivers to beat this time around.
"(Jimmie Johnson)'s beat us there a few times," Hamlin said. "I don't know how many years in a row now it's either been us or the 48 that's won at Martinsville, but we hope to keep that trend going.
"I know Kyle has gotten stronger there over the last few years. There's always been one or two guys kind of mixed in there each and every race that gives you a run for it. Kind of tough to say what's left to do there except keep winning."
With Martinsville and Texas (another track the No. 11 team swept in 2010) on the horizon, Hamlin believes that being outside of the Chase at the moment isn't anything to worry about for now.
"Essentially being one race back, we can make that up, especially with a string of about three top 10s in a row, top 5s, top 3, a win hopefully in the next few weeks, we can make that up relatively easy," Hamlin said.
"The good part about it and the reason I don't panic is I know I've got a really strong race team. Obviously we've been contenders over these last five years for a reason: that's because of the core group of guys working on this team, and they continue to give me good race cars every weekend. So I know when I have a bad weekend like I had last weekend, I'm just seven days away from the opportunity to win again."
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