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Patrick win should propel IndyCar comeback
Danica Patrick
Dana Garrett/IRL
Since a pair of fourth-place finishes back in 2005 at Twin Ring Motegi and Indianapolis, Danica Patrick has had to answer one question in almost every interview - "When will you win a race?"

We finally got the answer last weekend, when the 26-year-old Beloit, WI native saved enough fuel to make a late-race move around Helio Castroneves and win the 2008 Japan Indy 300.

Patrick was nowhere near the top early on, but Castroneves, Patrick and Ed Carpenter topped off their fuel tanks just after a Roger Yasukawa spin on lap 142. They hoped by getting a few caution flag laps, and via fuel conservation, to have enough fuel to reach the checkered flag.

The strategy worked and on lap 197 of 200, Patrick sailed around Castroneves for the lead. She saw the white flag with a three-second lead. Patrick charged into Turn 3 and came out of Turn 4 with the engine still going strong and put an end to all the questions, except possibly, "When will you win Indy?"

It was the first win for Patrick in her 50th IndyCar Series start. Before this one, she had earned three poles, 28 top-10s and led a total of 80 laps.

Patrick led 19 laps late in the 2005 Indy 500, but had to stretch fuel to reach the checkered flag and couldn't really fight hard for the win. She finished third at Texas in 2007 and second at Belle Isle, leading nine laps later that same year.

While it was the first win for a woman in open-wheel racing, it was not the first win by a woman in a major racing series.

Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney captured the National Hot Rod Association Springnationals Top Fuel title on June 13, 1976. It was certainly not a one- time occurrence, as Muldowney won a number of events and the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980 and 1982.

Angelle Sampey won the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship three times (2000-2002), and amassed 41 wins.

But neither got the coverage Danica will receive over the coming days and weeks leading up to this year's Indianapolis 500. The others had the skills and the talent, but were stuck in a time when racing didn't get much publicity. They also didn't have her looks. She is a marketer's dream and has appeared on covers from Sports Illustrated to Hot Rod Magazine to FHM.

In 2008, NASCAR is now big-time, and with the agreement between IndyCars and Champ Cars, open-wheel racing has begun to get better coverage. With her win in Motegi, expect Danica to be the "fuel" for an IndyCar comeback. Kansas City Star

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