TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Casey Mears want to put their post-race skirmish behind them.

That’s an easy fix.

The daunting part for the former Hendrick Motorsports teammates is getting their middling seasons turned around so they can get within striking distance of the Chase for the championship. Neither driver has enjoyed much success this year – Earnhardt is 19th in his second season with Hendrick and Mears is stuck in 22nd in his first season with Richard Childress Racing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes NASCAR made the right decision in penalizing him and Casey Mears for intentionally bumping cars after the race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Earnhardt and Mears were both put on probation this week for the next six races, but neither was fined or lost any points. Earnhardt says he’s friends with his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the incident will blow over.

Contact between the two caused Earnhardt to crash with 11 laps to go at Phoenix.

Earnhardt says the only reason he intentionally spun Mears on the cool-down lap was because his car was already wrecked anyway. He says he would not have done it if the No. 88 Chevrolet was still intact.

No wonder two drivers mired in frustrating seasons let their emotions boil over on the cool-down lap last week at Phoenix International Raceway. Mears started the dustup when he made contact with Earnhardt and caused him to crash with 11 laps left in Saturday’s race, ruining what was likely a needed top-10 finish for Junior. Instead, he fell to 31st.

After the race, Earnhardt intentionally spun Mears on the cool-down lap. Mears retaliated by passing several cars on pit road to find Earnhardt, then bumping into the back of his car.

The drivers originally thought they might escape the incident without any punishment. Instead, NASCAR decided to put both drivers on probation for the next six races, starting this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Neither driver was fined or lost points.

Earnhardt said he understood the punishment and was ready to make nice with Mears.

“Me and Mears are cool. We’ve been buddies,” Earnhardt said on Friday. “It’s good to be on probation every once and a while, I guess.”

He admitted he lost his cool once a shot at a strong finish went crashing into the wall. Earnhardt only spun Mears because his No. 88 Chevrolet was already wrecked.

“I don’t want to tear up my car if it ain’t tore up,” Earnhardt said. “It’s already wrecked so I didn’t have a real problem doing it.”

Mears was upset Earnhardt went after him on the cool-down lap because what happened during the race was simply an accident. Once Earnhardt made his move, Mears had to retaliate. He said they both proved their point and were ready to move on.

“We’ve got to work on getting points. I think he does, too,” Mears said. “If we start worrying about each other, it’s not going to make sense.”

They may as well get going at Talladega. Mears, who has yet to finish in the top 10 this season, will swap crews following the race with RCR teammate Kevin Harvick. Mears will have crew chief Todd Berrier calling the shots.

Earnhardt won four straight races from 2001 to 2003 at Talladega, finished second twice two straight times, then won the April race here in 2007. But he’s slumped badly the last three times, with one top 10 sandwiched between a 40th- and 28th-place finish.

This season, Earnhardt has two top 10s.

He’s the only Hendrick driver without a win this year, and teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have won the last three Sprint Cup races, adding even more pressure on the sport’s most popular driver. Gordon and Johnson are 1-2 in the Sprint Cup points standings and Martin is 13th, all running well ahead of Earnhardt.

“It’d mean a lot to win here. We’re a team that needs a win pretty bad,” Earnhardt said. “We like running here, we’ve had some success in the past. We’ve got a good shot at getting the win.”

And he plans to go for the checked flag without any further altercations – even if they do add some sizzle to the sport.

“You get back in the habit of acting more professional on the race track,” Earnhardt said. “It’s good to have the penalty, but it’s good to have the fireworks, too.”

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