04/20/2008 at 11:00 AM EDT
Danica Patrick became the first female winner in IndyCar history Sunday, taking the Indy Japan 300.
"It's a long time coming. Finally," Patrick, 26, told the Associated Press. "It was a fuel strategy race, but my team called it perfectly for me. I knew I was on the same strategy as Helio [Castroneves] and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."
Patrick finished 5.8594 seconds ahead of recent Dancing with the Stars champ Castroneves on the 1.5-mile oval.
"With five laps to go, I was saving fuel," Castroneves told the AP. "When Danica passed me, I realized she was the leader. She did a great job, passed me fair and square and that shows you how competitive our series is."
Added Michael Andretti, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing, "I think Danica is such a fantastic person and I'm thrilled for her that the monkey is finally off of her back. We have all believed in her and she proved today that she is a winner."
Patrick, who started from the third row and made her final pit stop on lap 148, stayed close to the leaders throughout the race. "I knew there was a good reason for coming to Japan," Patrick said. "I want to thank my team, the fans and everyone who supported me."
At the 2005 Indy 500, she became the first female driver to lead the race en route to a fourth-place finish. It was the best finish by a woman at Indy, and helped her take rookie of the year honors.
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