With a win under her belt, future is open for Patrick

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LONG BEACH, Calif. --- When Danica Patrick finally got her first win, it was late on a Saturday night back home in the United States -- not exactly ideal timing for one of the most historic victories in open-wheel racing.

Danica Patrick showed off her trophy after winning the Indy Japan 300 last weekend. The 26-year-old's victory was the first by a woman in the history of open-wheel racing.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Danica Patrick showed off her trophy after winning the Indy Japan 300 last weekend. The 26-year-old's victory was the first by a woman in the history of open-wheel racing.

And even though the victory came an ocean away, the 26-year-old Patrick wasn't complaining.

"Dreams really do come true," said Patrick, who is in her fourth full season in the IRL IndyCar Series and has spent much of that time answering questions about when she'd earn her first victory. "You just have to be persistent enough.

"People that are winners, when times get hard, they try a little harder. You don't give up," she said Sunday after a relatively sleepless 12-hour flight from Japan that left her a bit giddy while watching the last half of the Champ Car race on the streets of Long Beach. "Times get harder again because they're going to, so you try harder again and you go after it."

Patrick is part of the newly unified open-wheel series. She and a pair of fellow Americans -- 19-year-old Graham Rahal and 21-year-old Marco Andretti, both drivers from great racing families with loads of potential -- carry the series' hopes.

Rahal won on the street circuit earlier this month in St. Petersburg, Fla., becoming the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race. Andretti, the top IndyCar rookie in 2006, has shown signs of snapping out of a yearlong slump. Now, Patrick, who three years ago ignited a national case of "DanicaMania" by leading laps and finishing fourth in the Indianapolis 500, is a winner.

Although it would have been nice for Patrick's first win in 50 IRL races to have come on home turf in America -- and in prime time -- there should be no more comparisons to tennis' Anna Kournikova, who built a reputation based on glamour but never won a title, despite coming tantalizingly close several times.

Patrick, reminded that her first victory is a milestone in open-wheel history, said that's just fine with her.

"You know, it's going to be one of those things that's remembered," she said. "It's a first and firsts are in the history books."

Now, Patrick would like to make even more history by becoming a consistent winner and a champion.

Nobody will convince her it can't be done.


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