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Patrick wins Japan 300

Apr 20, 2008 - 5:01 AM MOTEGI, Japan (Ticker) -- Danica Patrick finally put to rest the question, "Is she ever going to win?" in the IndyCar Series.

Patrick made history on the other side of the earth by winning Sunday's Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, using great pit strategy to become the first female driver to win an IndyCar Race.

Although there have been female drivers who have won in drag racing, Patrick is the first female to win in a major closed-course racing series.

In tears in victory lane, Patrick passed pole-sitter Helio Castroneves with just three laps to go to take the lead and pulled away. Patrick and Castroneves had both come in for an extra pit stop after the last caution, giving them both enough fuel to finish the race.

Likely the most recognizable face in the series, Patrick was often criticized for her inability to win a race. That all changed at this 1 1/2-mile oval.

"It's been a long time coming, finally," Patrick said. "I can't say the last fuel stint was hard. We were taking it easy and taking care of the car. I was fast and managing to save fuel. I had been saving a little extra fuel and didn't want to make the mistake of pushing really hard to get by Helio."

Patrick, who burst into the racing scene as an IndyCar rookie in 2005, was able to celebrate the win in Japan with her family.

"Finally, finally, she worked so hard, she worked so hard," said Patrick's mother, Bev. "We finally got the win that everybody has been waiting for. Thank God, this is awesome."

Her father, T.J. Patrick, called it the "best day of my life." Her husband, Paul Hospenthal, was the calmest of the group.

"I'm so happy for her; it's great for everybody," said Hospenthal, a physical therapist for professional athletes. "It's great, great for anybody. Female aside, she's just a hard competitor. This is fantastic."

Patrick became the first female driver ever to win a race in her 50th IndyCar start.

"I'm so happy for her and so proud for her," team owner Michael Andretti said. "It's always been a question of when, not if, she was going to win. I love this girl. I'm so happy for her that the monkey is off her back. You'll see, there is more to come.

"She wanted to win so bad. She is such a competitor. This was getting the monkey off her back herself. This is the first of many more."

Patrick had fallen as far back as ninth in the final 20 laps, but most of the cars in front of her were forced to make a quick refueling pit stop over the final 12 laps.

The series point leader, Castroneves finished second for the second straight race and Dixon placed third. Wheldon was next and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five.

The race was expected to take place Saturday morning but was postponed after rain soaked the track over the past two days.

When the race finally got under way, Castroneves was able to build a decent lead in the early stages of the race. He held the top spot for the first 92 laps before Scott Dixon, who won the first race of the season at Miami-Homestead, took over the lead.

Dixon grabbed first place on pit road after the third caution of the race caused by Vitor Meira brushing the wall.

Benefiting from the clean air at the front of the pack, Dixon managed to pull away from the field and led until being forced to pit with five laps to go.

His teammate, Dan Wheldon briefly took the lead before pitting on the next lap.

Castroneves, who won here in 2006 after starting on the pole, appeared primed to win his first race of the season but Patrick charged by on the outside.

From there, she drove into history.

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