Danica Patrick was victorious in the Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi, becoming the first woman to win a major single-seater IndyCar race. Patrick didn't have the fastest car on the track but her team's pit strategy allowed her to cross the finish line nearly six seconds ahead of series points leader Helio Castroneves.
"Finally," said Patrick, after completing her 50th IndyCar Series race. "This is a long time coming. It was a fuel strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me. I know 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 has come close to visiting victory lane in the past. In 2005 she burst onto the national sports scene by finishing 4th in her first Indianapolis 500. Last year, driving for her current team, Andretti Green Racing, Patrick earned the runner-up position on the narrow street circuit at Belle Isle in Detroit.
"I've been asked so many times when I'm going to win my first race, and finally, no more of those questions.
"I had a lot of opportunities last year that were missed due to bad luck," Patrick continued. "I can only say I'm just glad it's over."
Castroneves maintained his lead in the championship point standings by holding onto to second place in his 100th start. Running low on fuel, Castroneves slowed at the end of the race allowing Patrick to lead the final two laps.
Scott Dixon finished third followed by Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically during the last ten laps. Dixon led comfortably during much of the race and led the most laps (101 of 200) but a splash and go pit stop with 5 laps remaining dropped him to third. Dixon relinquished the lead to Dan Wheldon on his pit stop but both Target Ganassi cars were using the same strategy and Wheldon had to pit shortly thereafter.
"The car was real good," said Dixon. "It was a whole day of strategy and wondering whether we should save fuel or go fast or let the other guys catch a little bit. It was just one of those days where you pretty much knew you were a sitting duck. I think we had a fast car, and we just came up short, same as Chicago."
Castroneves inherited the lead from Wheldon and was credited with leading one lap before being passed by Patrick.
Castroneves later admitted that he didn't know he was being passed for the lead. "I'm still in shock, to be honest, but I have no idea what's going on." Forced to save fuel, "I knew I needed to do some kind of numbers that was really hard to do, and I was trying as much as I can. My car was becoming very difficult to drive, I don't know why."
Castroneves said he looked at the scoring pylon "and I saw that No. 3 was ahead of No. 7, and as soon as we crossed the finish line, my number dropped, so I realized that I was in the lead for a short moment but in second at that time. So that's the only time that I knew I was second."
Ed Carpenter finished sixth followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Darren Manning and Ryan Briscoe.