April 20 in Motorsports History: Danica’s groundbreaking victory

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“Boys, move over.”

That was broadcaster Marty Reid’s famous call when Danica Patrick crossed the finish line on April 20, 2008.

For the first time in history, a woman had won at the top level of American open-wheel racing, coming in a brilliant fuel run at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi.

Patrick started the race from the sixth position, and while she didn’t have the fastest car, she had the right strategy.

Danica Patrick waves to the crowd after winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

With roughly 50 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, Patrick began to slow her pace and conserve fuel, dropping to as low as ninth.

That move paid off. As the laps began to dwindle, the cars ahead of her began to drop off, either for having to conserve fuel or come in to pit.

Scott Dixon, who had led the majority of the race, came in to pit with five laps remaining. Then Dan Wheldon came in. Then Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter.

Helio Castroneves inherited the lead with four laps remaining, as Patrick rapidly made her charge in second place. On the next lap, Patrick passed Castroneves for the lead on the backstretch and went on to win by 5.859 seconds over the Brazilian.

“This is a long time coming,” Patrick told ESPN following the race “Finally.”

While she wouldn’t win again in IndyCar, Patrick raced the series until 2011. In 2009, she finished third in the Indy 500, the best finish for a woman in the race to date.

After racing in NASCAR full time from 2012-17, Patrick announced she would retire from racing. She made her final NASCAR and IndyCar starts in the 2018 Daytona 500 and Indy 500, respectfully.


Champ Car’s final farewell

Will Power leads the field at the start of the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

As word of Patrick’s victory spread across the world, another historic race was taking place in the United States. Champ Car, which was established in 1979 as CART, was running its final race on the streets of Long Beach.

Will Power his victory in the final Champ Car race held at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images)

With the inaugural season of the Indy Racing Leauge in 1996, CART and the IRL competed as rival series for the next 12 years. In February 2008, both series reunified under one umbrella, causing several of Champ Car’s races either to be canceled or added to the IndyCar calendar.

With neither Long Beach or Motegi able to change their firmly locked dates, series officials made the decision to run both races as planned. IRL teams would travel to Motegi, and the Grand Prix of Long Beach would serve as an unofficial farewell race for Champ Car.

While points accrued in the race counted toward the IndyCar Series championship, all teams entered were Champ Car entries utilizing DP01 chassis. Additionally, the race also ran under Champ Car rules, which included a 1 hour, 45-minute time limit and a standing start.

Will Power started the race from the fourth position and got an impressive start, taking the lead from pole-sitter Justin Wilson into Turn 1.

Power would dominate, leading all but two laps en route to his third career victory. The future Indy 500 and IndyCar champion will be remembered as the final winner in Champ Car history.

“We got a ripper start,” Power told ESPN. “I was doing plenty of burnouts before, not off the hairpin though. It was a good start, good strategy, and we ran well. The yellows played well into our hands, so it was a good race.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994