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25 years later, Redskins fan Denny Hamlin gets replacement hat, signature from Joe Gibbs

September 19, 2018

The picture is somewhat famous in NASCAR circles.

Inside Joe Gibbs’ office in North Carolina is a photo of Gibbs, then the Washington Redskins coach, signing an autograph for a 12-year-old fan.

That fan is now star NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, and Gibbs is the owner of Hamlin’s FedEx racing team, which rolls into Richmond this weekend for the first round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

However, the item Gibbs signed that day was lost long ago — a hat commemorating Washington’s victory in Super Bowl XXVI over the Buffalo Bills.

“My parents told me not to take it to school,” Hamlin said. “I stuck my head out of the school bus window. It flew out, and I lost the hat forever.”

During the Redskins’ training camp this year, Hamlin, who is from Chesterfield, was presented with a replacement hat by Redskins quarterback Alex Smith.

When he got back to Charlotte, N.C., Hamlin and Gibbs recreated the photo. Hamlin again has an autographed Super Bowl 26 hat.

“This is my team, even though I live in Charlotte now this is the team I root for, and always have,” Hamlin said. “Just have a warm place in my heart for the Redskins.”

He said on race days he often has score updates given to him (which could explain his 32nd-place finish in Sunday’s race in Las Vegas — he took a spin through the grass on Lap 247).

But Hamlin never had any football ambitions.

“I always had dreams when I went to my very first race at RIR, when I was 5 years old, as soon as the cars came around for the first time it was, ‘This is what I want to do,’ ” he said. “Of course, we worked on it from that point on, bought a go kart ... just took it one level at a time from Southside Speedway to local tracks, then caught the eye of Joe Gibbs.”

Even when he’s in the garage, though, he’s still talking football.

Hamlin’s favorite Redskins memory?

“Probably the golden quarter against the Broncos (in Super Bowl XXII),” Hamlin said. “I remember talking to Joe, and he said it didn’t matter, I could have closed my eyes and stuck my finger on a play, and it was going to work. For whatever reason, everything worked for that 15 minutes.”

Hamlin is hoping for a similar run of fortune Saturday night in Richmond.

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