Danica Patrick Makes History, Scores First IndyCar Series Victory

MOTEGI, Japan - Since exploding into the consciousness of an international audience at the 2005 Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick has answered incessant questions of when she would win an IndyCar Series race.

Next question, please.

Patrick, competing in her 50th IndyCar Series race, became the first female to win a major auto racing event on a closed-course circuit.

"Finally," Patrick said through tears before a victory lap to compose her thoughts. "This is a long time coming. It was a fuel strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me. I know I was on the same strategy as Helio, and when I passed him for the lead I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."

A few minutes later, fans streamed down the frontstretch grandstand to get a closer glimpse (and hopefully a snapshot) of the winner - proof they were witness to history and had the ability to return to the venue after the sixth annual race was postponed 22 hours because of rain.

"I've always said that I wouldn't do this, but on my last lap I was kind of just excited," said Patrick, 26. "And when I actually had to talk on my radio, finally the emotion came out. I really couldn't manage any other words than 'thank you.' And then I was as relieved as I expected I would be years ago, how I knew I would feel when I won my first race."

Patrick has come close before, including after starting on the front row at Twin Ring Motegi in her fourth IndyCar Series race in '05. She finished fourth and really captured the public's attention a month later by becoming the first female to lead the Indianapolis 500. Patrick finished fourth again, and over the next two-plus seasons (with Rahal Letterman Racing and now Andretti Green Racing) second place (at Belle Isle last September) had been the high-water mark.

"I've been asked so many times when I'm going to win my first race, and finally, no more of those questions."

No, they will turn to 'When can you win another?' starting with the RoadRunner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway in a week.

"It feels like it's taken a long time," she continued. "I had a lot of opportunities last year that were missed due to bad luck. I can only say I'm just glad it's over."

Castroneves finished 5.8594 seconds behind and Scott Dixon was third. Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Dan Wheldon, finished fourth and Tony Kanaan was fifth. Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter, staring at a career-best finish, also had to pit and wound up sixth. Rahal Letterman Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay was a season-best seventh and A.J. Foyt Racing's Darren Manning advanced four positions to eighth.

Patrick, who competed in European junior formulas seeking her open-wheel racing break, returned to the States to compete in the Toyota Atlantic series in 2003 for Team Rahal. Co-owner Bobby Rahal gave her the opportunity in 2005. The move was met with some questions about a relatively inexperienced driver - and a female - competing in the premier North American open-wheel racing series.

"I think that the disadvantage to overcome was just that I hadn't won," Patrick said. "A lot of women hadn't really proved on a consistent basis that they could be a good driver and always run up front. I think there had been times when they had done well but not consistently.

"I can't tell you that I blame them for not believing that we could do it. But when you have 100 guys come through, finding one good one, the odds are a lot better than 100 girls since it takes a lot longer for 100 to come through. The odds are against us. But I grew up with never really using guys as a reference, using drivers as a reference, and if I wasn't fast enough, I wasn't fast enough. That was the most important thing."

The car was plenty fast enough at Twin Ring Motegi. Her team calculated the fuel mileage to the liter. And Patrick drove into history.

NOTE: It's been 31 years since Janet Guthrie broke through to be the first wo

man to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Lyn St. James, who continues to champion women race car drivers, competed in seven 500-Mile Races. Before Patrick came on the scene in 2005, Sarah Fisher was the most recent and successful female driver.

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