Once ‘really at each other,’ Jeff Gordon and team now in sync

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Because his final Sprint Cup season has been among his most trying, Jeff Gordon believes it still could conclude as among his most triumphant.

The four-time series champion is trying to avoid ending his NASCAR career with a winless season for the first time in five years. But despite a multitude of pit mistakes, strategy miscues and some mediocre cars, Gordon seems headed in the right direction entering his final six races.

His eighth last Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the No. 24 Chevrolet’s fifth consecutive top-15 finish, and the consistency was underscored by the team’s ability to overcome a rough start and maximize its result.

Gordon said it’s a result of being battle-tested by a sometimes contentious regular season.

“Man, just a lot of focus and energy and effort that has been put in to improving things,” he said. “I think the cars are improved. I feel like our communication (is improved), because of all we have been through this year where we have had some really tough times, whether it is the performance of the car or a restart or pit strategy or a pit stop.

“We have gone through some times where we were really at one another, and we lived through that and actually strengthened our communication as a team through that. When you can get through that and be better because of it, if the timing works out, you usually find a way to shine through that. That is what I think we are doing right now. We are just executing.  We did not execute very well earlier in the season, and it showed as bad results and we weren’t very good.”

Gordon likes his chances of advancing to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup because of his history at the next two tracks. He has three wins at Kansas Speedway (where he will start sixth in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC), and he started from the pole and led 47 laps in May at Talladega Superspeedway before finishing 31st because of a speeding penalty on his last pit stop.

Gordon felt he had the best car at Talladega, and it could be argued he has been the class of the field in restrictor-plate races this season. He also started from the Daytona 500 pole and led a race-high 87 laps before crashing on the final lap, and he finished sixth at Daytona International Speedway in July.

“I know Talladega is one of those things we all look at and go, ’Aw man I don’t want to have to go in there having to put up specific numbers because anything can happen at any time,’ but I look at the performance we have had on the restrictor plate tracks this year, and they have been very strong so that is encouraging,” he said. “I feel confident we can move to the next round.”