RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The King is back.
Richard Petty returned to the race track on Friday for the first time since the death of his wife. Lynda Petty, the seven-time NASCAR champion's partner of 57 years, died of cancer on March 25.
Petty said he needed some time on his own and skipped races at Martinsville, Texas and Darlington before a large family Easter celebration at home last weekend.
''I am back in the saddle again now,'' the Hall of Famer said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. ''I am just learning to live all over again.''
This week, he joined the team for appearances in Georgia on Monday, Tennessee on Tuesday and Wyoming on Wednesday before getting to Richmond on Thursday.
''The busier they keep me, the better off I will be,'' Petty said.
And the happier his team, too.
''To have him back and have him back on top of the trailer and in the garage with us will be big,'' said Aric Almirola, who drives the No. 43 car that Petty made famous in winning 200 career races. ''It is big for me as a driver but really for our entire race team, to have his presence back, is going to be huge.''
Early Friday, Petty and Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose unveiled a new paint scheme for Saturday night's race highlighting Children's Miracle Network Hospitals on his No. 9 Ford.
If Ambrose wins Saturday night's race, his sponsor Stanley will donate $1 million to CMN. If he finishes second, it will donate $500,000 and $250,000 for third.
The family has been integral in the development of the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with serious illnesses after Petty's grandson, Adam, died in a racing accident at Loudon, N.H., in 2000. He said charitable work remind him of his good fortune.
''I think it kind of pacifies myself from the standpoint that we have troubles, but a lot of other people have a lot of other trouble,'' he said. ''Like with Victory Junction Gang camp and other stuff that we do, we're so fortunate. I had four kids and 12 grandkids and every one of them was perfectly healthy.
''And you look at all the people that are not that way.''
Ambrose leads all drivers in average finish on short tracks this season, having finished in the top five at both Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. He'd love nothing better than to welcome the boss back to the race track with a victory that benefits children.
''We have a chance to win a million bucks for the sick kids in the Children's Hospitals and we have a chance to make the Chase and a chance to win my first oval race,'' Ambrose said. ''I guess it is all stacked up to be a lot of reasons to win, and we know it.''
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