After three years of trying, and placing as high as 4th in the Indy 500, 26-year-old Danica Patrick finally won her first IndyCar race this weekend. It was the Japan 300 at Motegi on the international Indy series, making her the first female winner in IndyCar history.
"Boys, move over. The lady is coming through," shouted the announcer as her Andretti Green Racing car blurred across the finish line.
Danica was constantly being hounded about when she was going to win her first race. Many had the idea that women just couldn't win in this sport. Many, however -- and that includes some in the sports media --don't realize that a motorsports win is almost a bonus. A top 10 finish is a big deal. Too much circumstance can happen in a race -- with the car, with the track, with other drivers's cars -- to make wins frequent for anybody. All-time leading IndyCar driver Sam Hornish Jr. has only 19 wins and 32 top 10's out of 117 starts.
But there were other concerns about Danica. Unlike the other hot women drivers out there, who have some depth in their racing records, with wins in other series and other types of car, like sprint cars and late models, Danica had never won a thing before she strapped into IndyCars. That, and her willingness to pose in scanty girl clothing for the tabloids, led some to dismiss her as "not a real racer -- just a chick who's looking for publicity."
Danica's win was a fuel-strategy win. Her team calculated it right down to the last teaspoon of gas, and she stayed out to take the final lead while other competitors had to pit for more fuel. Second was Helio Castroneves, he of "Dancing With the Stars."
Fifty starts, one real racing win...and now Patrick has to win again, pretty soon, to keep up. -- Patricia Nell Warren