Danica Patrick admitted that she was overwhelmed by the emotion of scoring her first IRL IndyCar Series victory - and becoming the first female driver to win a major closed-course motor race.
The American used a wily fuel strategy devised by Andretti-Green team manager Kyle Moyer to rise from eighth to take an unexpected win at Motegi this morning.
"I feel like such a wuss for crying," Patrick said in a emotional interview shortly after removing her helmet. "But it's been a long time coming. I've worked so hard for this. We've worked so hard for this. Thank God."
Patrick, who has been the centre of huge media attention since graduating to the IndyCar Series at the start of 2005, said it was an enormous relief to finally take a win after 50 IndyCar races and seven years in the junior categories prior to that.
"When I actually had to talk on my radio, finally the emotion came out," Patrick said. "I really couldn't manage any other words than 'thank you'. And then I was as relieved, as I expected I would be years ago, how I knew I would feel when I won my first race.
"But I guess over time that feeling has only gotten bigger, and over time I've been asked so many times when I'm going to win my first race. Finally, no more of those questions."
Patrick was one of three drivers to take an additional fuel top-up under the final caution in Japan, but unlike fellow late-stoppers Helio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter, she was able to make the fuel load last right through to the chequered flag.
She passed Castroneves for the lead with two laps remaining as the Penske ran low on fuel and slowed.
"I did feel like it was fast near the end, and I was managing to keep the speed up while saving fuel," Patrick said. "I heard from Kyle that all I needed to beat was Helio.
"I knew during that last stint I'd been saving a little more than he had. I knew he was the one to beat, but I didn't want to make the mistake of not pushing hard enough to get by him."
Castroneves had dominated the first half of the race, but was gracious in defeat.
"She passed me fair and square," he said. "I didn't have enough fuel even if I wanted to fight with her, and today I guess it's part of history again."
Patrick's team boss Michael Andretti believes her Motegi victory could open the floodgates for many more successes.
"Danica is such a fantastic person, and I'm thrilled for her that the monkey is finally off of her back," Andretti said. "We have all believed in her and she proved today that she is a winner. Frankly, I think this is the first of many."