The King's comeback: Petty speaks for first time since wife's death
APR 25, 2014 12:00p ET
Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Richard Petty returned to the track on Friday at Richmond International Speedway after spending a few weeks away following the death of his wife, Lynda, on March 25.
Petty, whose Richard Petty Motorsports team has continued on in the absence of its famous owner, addressed reporters at RIR about how he is coping with the loss of his wife of five-and-a-half decades.
"I am surviving," Petty said. "It is going to be different, I guess. After 55 years, I have to start all over again. I was fortunate that all the kids came home for Easter. We had all the kids and grandkids home and that really made things work good."
Lynda Petty, who passed away at age 72 after a lengthy fight with cancer, is greatly missed by the NASCAR community -- something Richard has witnessed firsthand since her death.
"It is great that so many people knew Lynda so well," he said. "Of course she had been around a long time, too. She never met a stranger. Every once in a while I would come in the house and see people I didn't even know. She would invite them in the house to spend the night or whatever. Again, it is just going to be different."
Despite being away for three races, Petty kept tabs on the team's progress and stayed in contact with RPM officials.
"They kept me informed," he said. "They called every day about what was going on, and I watched some of it on TV. It was still not the same as being there, though."
JJ NO FAN OF RIR
If there is one track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that is a thorn in the side of reigning six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, it's Richmond International Raceway.
Johnson owns three wins in 24 starts at the Virginia short track but hasn't been to Victory Lane since the fall of 2008. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has just eight top 10 finishes at RIR and carries an average finish of 17.3.
Johnson finished 40th at RIR last fall and hasn't recorded a top-10 finish at RIR since the spring of 2012.
"We suck here," Johnson said on Friday. "We're terrible, and hopefully we are a lot better this weekend. The last couple trips, especially, we have been junk. So the results don't reflect the effort, so that is the disappointing part."
As for the source of his struggles, Johnson can only speculate.
"I don't have a good answer," he said. "We always evaluate our performance here and say, 'Maybe it was this,' and we pursue what was down that road and come back with new hope and then unload and have a frustrating practice. We manage okay finishes for the most part, but we know we should be better than that. Just getting beat by a track really gets under our skin, as well."
If Clint Bowyer seems extra refreshed this weekend, it could be because he's fresh off his honeymoon.
The two-time Richmond winner spent NASCAR's Easter break at a popular tropical destination with his new wife, Lorra.
"We did have us a good honeymoon -- had a big bonfire at the house the other night," Bowyer said. "I was burning some brush and I look over and I was like, 'How's your honeymoon, honey? Pretty good, huh?' We had so much fun.
"We went down to the Bahamas with just a little group of family and friends -- some of my closest friends and some of hers. They knew we were there -- just put it that way. It was a lot of fun."
Richmond, of course, is the site of Bowyer's controversial spin last September that set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to a hefty fine against Michael Waltrip Racing and the expulsion of Bowyer's then-MWR teammate, Martin Truex Jr., from the Chase.
"I'm looking forward to having another good run here and shaking that off from last year," said Bowyer, who intentionally spun to bring out a caution in the race's final laps. "It was a bad deal and I get it. ... This is one of my favorite racetracks. People all across the country ask you where your favorite tracks are, and this is first or second on my list."
Ridgeway, Va., native Matt Bowling won Thursday night's Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston (Va.) Speedway in the seventh edition of the charity race. The event benefits the Denny Hamlin Foundation and raises awareness and funding to support cystic fibrosis research and new therapies in the region. Hamlin finished eighth, while Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was fourth, with fellow teammate Matt Kenseth fifth. Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan finished 20th. Truck Series driver Timothy Peters finished 27th after tangling with fellow Truck Series driver Jeb Burton. ... As part of the "Racing for a Miracle" program, Marcos Ambrose, team owner Richard Petty and the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team spent Friday morning donating $100,000 to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and unveiling a special Children's Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN) paint scheme for Saturday night's race. If Ambrose and the No. 9 team win, sponsor Stanley will donate $1 million to CMN through the Ace Hardware Foundation. If Ambrose finishes second or third, Stanley, through the Ace Hardware Foundation, will donate $500,000 and $250,000, respectively.