Danica Patrick made IndyCar history on April 20, 2008 when she became the first female driver to win the Indy Japan 300, finishing at 5.8594 seconds.
“It’s a long time coming. Finally,” said Patrick to the Associated Press. “I knew there was a good reason for coming to Japan. I want to thank my team, my fans, and everyone who supported me.”
The 26-year-old driver came in first, beating out top contenders Helio Castroneves and Ring Motegi after they were forced to stop during the final laps for a fuel pit stop. According to Patrick, the win was a long time coming.
“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 began on the road racing at the tender age of 16 and placed second in England’s competitive Formula Ford Festival, finishing with the highest ranking ever for a woman or an American in the event. On July 2, 2005 Patrick won her first pole position, which is an advantageous position on the inside of the track in the front row, and became the second woman to accomplish this – Sarah Fisher being the first in 2002 at the Kentucky Speedway. In 2005, she won Rookie of the Year for both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series season. On July 25, 2006, Patrick signed a deal to drive for Andretti Green Racing. She finished 14th at Homestead on March 24th, marking her first win with AGR after crashing into the pit wall on lap 154.
Despite all of her successes, Patrick has been attacked multiple times by Nascar critics and fellow racers alike for her racing abilities and for being a woman. Seven-time Nascar champion Richard Petty was quoted in Associate Press as stating,
“I just don’t think it’s a sport for women, and so far, it’s proved out. It gives us a lot of publicity, it gives them publicity. But as far as being a real true racer, making a living out of it, it’s kind of tough.”
Patrick’s latest win, however, might just force Petty and Patrick’s other critics to eat their words. After securing the win, a confident Patrick was quoted as saying, “I’m glad it finally happened. But I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think it would be me.”