One era firmly came to a close on Sunday and for those watching on television, it was clear a new era was being broadcasted nationwide to all viewers. The question was always whether Danica Patrick, who rose to prominence following a few laps in...
One era firmly came to a close on Sunday and for those watching on television, it was clear a new era was being broadcasted nationwide to all viewers. The question was always whether Danica Patrick, who rose to prominence following a few laps in the lead of the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and a fourth-place finish, would ever win a race to satisfy the hype surrounding her.
That question can be crossed off the checklist and it's time for new ones to be asked, after Patrick scored her elusive first victory in Motegi, Japan this weekend. Cynics and skeptics claim this was a race dictated by both fuel mileage and a fewer number of entrants. The transitioning drivers from Champ Car were off gallivanting in the sun-soaked paradise of Long Beach and saying farewell to their series while going for broke. A win is a win, no matter the number of entrants and the fact fuel mileage is a common factor in deciding races, in the IndyCar Series or anywhere else.
Be that as it may, Patrick has occasionally threatened to win races, especially at Japan where she has run well previously, and now it was the case of being in the right place at the right time to finally break through. "It was going to be critical on saving the fuel and be able to stretch the run as long as possible," Patrick said today on a conference call. "You know, we were hoping for no yellow flags, as well, as we were going to be able to make it to the end under green. So we luckily got that."
It is apparent that as one of the series' marketing mavens, Patrick will get as much exposure as possible, especially now the moniker "race winner" can be attributed. A whirlwind media tour is in order for the Roscoe, IL native, although home is a place she probably won't be visiting anytime soon! After flying back from Japan she made it to Long Beach where she was interviewed during the end of the race telecast - to the dismay of some who felt it detracted from the final Champ Car event.
There was another press conference succeeding the Champ Car podium, today's media teleconference, and then off to New York for more interviews before heading to Kansas for this weekend's upcoming race. Patrick discussed the media influence on her career: "You know, I don't really try and let the press affect me. I do the best job I can with you guys and I do the best job in the race car that I can, and whatever happens, happens.
"But I try not to let it negatively affect me because I can't control it. So, you know, I just keep my head down and just try and be the best driver I can and focus and do my job, and that's to go out there and win races."
Prior to this weekend there was also the notion that Patrick was merely a sideshow, someone in the sport primarily based on gender and not talent. A notion that should be eliminated, but unfortunately will always resonate at some level, despite the fact racing in general has been more open to women than the other major sports. Look no further than Simona De Silvestro, also a winner this weekend, the Swiss driver taking the checkers in the Atlantic Championship race at Long Beach.
"I think that you're never going to stop that kind of media," Patrick offered. "I think that officially being a female and doing photo shoots and things like that, people are quick to criticize. I would hope that over time, yes, of course, they would focus on - give me credit for the good things that happen along the way, but that's one of those things that's totally out of my control.
"I can be as nice to everyone as I possibly can be, but I can't write stories for them or put words in their mouth or on their paper. The best thing I can do is just put my head down as a driver, and if I can walk away at the end of the day pleased with my performance, that's really all that matters, and to my team, as well."
Another thing Patrick recognized about her victory was the timing of it -- the fact it coincided with the last Champ Car weekend, before a race next weekend that should get Kansas people buzzing, and before the granddaddy of open-wheel racing throughout the month of May in Indianapolis (although Kansans may still be on a post-NCAA basketball championship high). "I was asked that earlier yesterday and I was like, you're right, that's pretty exciting actually that it happened on the same day that the last Champ Car race was, and it's quite a mark in time," she said of the significance.
"You know, I'm just proud to be a part of it. And no matter what day it happened, would I have been so grateful for and always remember it, but yeah, there are some other significant events that have happened at the same time."
Patrick's victory launched her to third in the points where she looks to improve this upcoming weekend at Kansas, while the former Champ Car teams return to an oval since the opening weekend at Homestead. The occasion should be a landmark event in the promotion of the series' newest winner.