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Rahal drivers defend Dana

Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice have defended their late teammate Paul Dana against suggestions that he should not have been competing in top level single-seaters

Dana died when he hit Ed Carpenter's crashed car during a practice session at Homestead on Sunday.

His Ethanol backing had helped him to secure the third Rahal-Letterman Racing drive, and many commentators have suggested that a more experienced or capable driver would have avoided the accident, especially as it happened eight seconds after a caution period had been called.

Speaking to the media after testing on Tuesday, Patrick admitted that she had been surprised to learn of Dana's signing, but insisted that he had proved he belonged in the IRL IndyCar series, and should not be disparaged because he was a pay driver.

"He did the hardest thing. He got a sponsor to stand behind him and give him a ride," Patrick said.

"I remember at the Christmas party, and I was sitting in a meeting with the team and I thought 'what's going on here, is he going to drive for the team?'

"I was surprised, but he made it happen. Good for him. And you know what? He was proving he was driving the thing. I think he did better than I expected."

Dana had qualified ninth for Sunday's race before his fatal accident. He was still classified as a rookie as he only completed three races in 2005 before being sidelined by spinal injuries following an Indianapolis practice crash.

"He ran his fastest lap he ever ran. He qualified inside the top 10," said Rice. "That guy put everything he had into becoming a race car driver.

"Obviously he got a little bit of later start than some of us; that's just the way of the course. At least he went out on the top step, where he wanted to be at, in the top level."

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