Danica claims first IndyCar race - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Danica claims first IndyCar race

Prior to the Japan 300, Danica Patrick's best IRL finish was second at Detroit last year. Prior to the Japan 300, Danica Patrick's best IRL finish was second at Detroit last year.
Danica Patrick was always sure a woman could win a race. And now the questions about her will surely stop.

Patrick made it to the place she wanted to be for so long -- Victory Lane. She became the first female winner in IndyCar history Sunday, capturing the Indy Japan 300 in her 50th career start.

"I'm glad it finally happened," the 26-year-old driver said. "But I would be lying if I told you I didn't think it would be me."

Her owner was ecstatic, insisting more victories await. Her family could not congratulate her enough. All of which made Patrick a bit teary.

"When it actually happened, maybe it was a little anticlimactic," she said. "Then the emotions came out and that was a little girly of me."

Win No. 1 was a long time coming. Patrick finished a career-best seventh in the standings last year when her best finish was second in the race at Detroit's Belle Isle. Her first IndyCar race was in 2005 at Homestead-Miami.

"I've been asked so many times when and if I can win my first race," she said. "And, finally, no more of those questions."

Patrick was welcomed by her family near the podium.

"There was a lot of "I love you,' and 'congratulations,' Patrick said. "My dad said it was the best day of his life."

Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, called his driver a "fantastic person."

"I'm thrilled for her that the monkey is finally off of her back," said Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing. "We have all believed in her and she proved today that she is a winner. Frankly, I think this is the first of many."

At the 2005 Indy 500, Patrick nearly won the pole and became the first female driver to lead the race. She wound up fourth, the best finish by a woman at Indy and a result that helped her claim rookie of the year honors.

Sunday's race, which was delayed a day because of a wet track, was won by a combination of cool composure and shrewd strategy. Patrick took the lead from pole-sitter Helio Castroneves on the 198th lap in the 200-lap race.

"When I had to talk into my radio after the race, all I could say was 'thank you,"' said Patrick, who finished 5.8594 seconds ahead of Castroneves on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval.

"It was a fuel-strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me," Patrick said. "I knew I was on the same strategy as Helio and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."

Patrick started from the third row and made her final pit stop on the 148th lap. She stayed close to the leaders throughout and realized she had a chance when the top contenders headed to the pits late in the race.

Patrick went from fourth to second on the 197th lap after Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan pitted on the 196th. She was as low as eighth place on the 189th lap.

"I knew from the start of the last fuel load that I was going to have a chance," Patrick said. "I was saving fuel from the first lap but it wasn't until I passed Helio that I knew I was going to win."

Scott Dixon took the lead from Castroneves on the 93rd lap but gave up the top spot to pit for fuel on the 194th. Dixon finished third, 10.0559 seconds behind Patrick. Wheldon was fourth and Kanaan fifth.

Castroneves, awarded the pole position after qualifying was rained out Friday, said Patrick ran a great race.

"With five laps to go, I was saving fuel," Castroneves said. "When Danica passed me, I realized she was the leader. She did a great job, passed me fair and square and that shows you how competitive our series is."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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