Title contender, team owner have long and unique history together RELATED: Follow your picks in the Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It's a moment Denny Hamlin still remembers vividly, when as a bright-eyed 11-year-old fan of the NFL's Washington Redskins, he famously told Coach Joe Gibbs that he'd love to win a championship driving for him someday. Come Sunday, he'll have another great opportunity to make good on his childhood dream. Hamlin enters Sunday's season finale (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of the four drivers vying for their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. As he has for the duration of his nine-year career in stock-car racing's top division, he'll be carrying the flag for Joe Gibbs Racing behind the wheel of his familiar No. 11. "It would mean a lot. I'm still with the race team that gave me my start and not only that, the sponsor, too," Hamlin said. "We have a long relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx and even the team members that work on my race car that have been with me from the very, very start -- it would be so gratifying to win the championship for them. They've worked their guts out and even though this year hasn't produced results that we expect and the expectations that we expect to hit when we hit the race track, we find ourselves in a winner-take-all type format for one race and we know anything can happen." In 1992, Hamlin was impatiently waiting at an autograph session to meet Gibbs , who had just finished leading the Redskins to their third Super Bowl title. The team owner was also getting his fledgling single-team stock-car racing operation off the ground with Dale Jarrett, now a NASCAR Hall of Famer, as his driver. That's when pre-teen Hamlin saw his chance to tout his still-developing go-karting skills, drawing what he characterized as a "there, there, now run along" type of response from the veteran coach. He also got the autograph on a hat he cherished, only to have the keepsake fly out his school bus window during one of his spells of restlessness on the ride home. Hamlin said he "cried for two weeks" after the autographed cap went missing, but that he never lost his loyalty to the man who would one day become his car owner. "He's a great guy and what I love is that I'm driving for a family organization," Hamlin said. "I want to win it so bad for them because they are all in this sport. If their race team goes under they got nothing -- they have nothing. To race for an owner that lives and breathes racing like Joe does and he's at the race shop every morning when that shop door opens and that means a lot to me. There would be no other person more gratifying to win this for than him, especially a guy that I looked up to as a kid." Hamlin's best shot at a championship before this weekend came in 2010. He led the Sprint Cup standings entering the Homestead finale, but an early race spin left his car with splitter damage and an uphill climb. Jimmie Johnson capitalized and went on to secure the fifth of his sixth titles. Gibbs said Hamlin was "absolutely devastated" by the defeat, taking the brunt of the blame. This time around, the coach says he sees a more mature driver on the cusp of a championship. Hamlin, for one, says he notices a considerable difference in his approach, four years later. "Just playing this game way more relaxed," Hamlin said, describing his self-induced tension on the eve of the 2010 finale. "I didn't do anything that night, didn't want anyone coming in -- just wanted to focus on what I needed to do, but that wasn't what got me to that point. It was being myself and having my friends and family around -- playing cards before driver intros, whatever it took to loosen me up. That's what I did for 35 races and I changed that for one race and it won't be the case this time around. Just racing much looser and having fun with this moment. You never know, especially with this type of format. Live it up and have some fun." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Joe Gibbs Racing history, full crews of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth
Rutledge Wood sits down with Joe and JD Gibbs to discuss safe driving and the importance of taking the Safe Driving Pledge from Toyota.
J.D. Gibbs looks back to when the organization started running NASCAR Nationwide Series races and what it took to make the 100-win mark possible.
Kyle Busch talks about winning the NCWTS Owner Champion Award at the NNS and NCWTS Awards Banquet.
2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott gives his acceptance speech druing the end-of-season banquet at the Trump National Doral Miami.
Car Owner Roger Penske talks about winning the NNS Owner Champion Award at the NNS and NCWTS Awards Banquet.