April 20, 2008 — -- As race car driver Danica Patrick sped toward the finish line Sunday at the Japan 300 in Motegi, she also entered a place in the record books and took her seat as the first female driver in Indy car history to win, when she took top honors on the track.
"Boys, move over. The lady is coming through. Danica Patrick wins the Twin Motegi," the announcer said as she crossed the finish line.
The 26-year-old Wisconsin native took the lead in the final two laps of the 200-lap race as her mother watched and cheered in the stands. Patrick finished 5.8594 seconds ahead of pole-sitter Helio Castroneves on the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval, after other top contenders were forced to pit for fuel in their final laps.
Grabbing the checkered flag silenced Patrick's critics, who remembered her as the most famous race car driver without a win.
Patrick, who also holds the distinction of being the first female driver to ever lead the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tearfully spoke with reporters following her victory.
"Finally," said a clearly emotional Patrick, who, at one point in the race, was as low as eighth place. "It's a long time coming."
The historic win happened during her 50th professional start.
Since she entered the professional racing scene, Patrick has received a bevy of press and pressure with everyone closely watching her performances. In 2005 she became only the fourth woman to ever race in the Indy 500; she finished fourth and took rookie of the year honors.
"People are watching, and that means if you do well, they are there. But if you do bad, they are watching, too," Patrick said in a May 2006 interview with ABC News' "World News."
But the examination and inquiries followed her off the track, boosting her popularity. Patrick's model good looks and brash personality helped place her on magazine covers and in racy photo spreads.
Now, the driver has marked her place in history and her colleagues praised her win.
"She did a great job, passed me fair and square, and that shows you how competitive our series is," Castroneves told the Associated Press.
Patrick herself was mindful to thank her crew, who she believed helped her win.
"Thank you to all my teammates, and ... finally," she said.