Her popularity is based solely on the fact that she is a woman, it has practically nothing to do with her racing abilities. She is, at best, a decent race car driver, but since she is a woman, she gets all the media attention.
Best female IRL racer ever.
About 5'2, 100 pounds. She's so small, Robby Gordon got pissed because her weight and height gives her about a 1 mph advantage on the track.
Picked up by Rahal from England, she's got skillz.
In the 2005 Indy 500, she qualified 4th after a mishap on the first lap.
The race came around, she stalled her car in the pits. That sent her back to 16th. Then she nearly spun into a wall. After those mishaps, she still managed to lead the race, low on fuel, for most of the last 20 laps. She fell behind on a yellow (caution), but then led the restart. She finished 4th. Same spot she qualified.
Records made on May 29th, 2005 by Danica Patrick:
Highest female starting position in the Indy 500
First female to lead a lap in the Indy 500
Highest finish by a female in the Indy 500
Some more too, but those are the important ones.