Newgarden hails LaPier’s toughness

The question posed to Josef Newgarden after running away with the Iowa Speedway round one win on Saturday involved asking for his thoughts on Team Penske’s pit crews, which posted the fastest combined pit stops among all 26 entries in the event.

Will Power’s No. 12 Chevy crew led the field with a total of 96.1240s spent on pit lane followed by Newgarden’s No. 2 Chevy crew at 97.1663s, which was remarkable—a 1-2 for Penske — considering the intense heat everyone endured. In typical Newgarden fashion, the boisterous Tennessean took the answer to the question in an entirely different direction.

“Kyle LaPier, my left front [tire changer], about died two days ago!” the two-time IndyCar champion exclaimed. “He was mowing his lawn, got attacked by a hornets nest, was in the hospital 24 hours ago, got released. I don’t know how he got here and pitted my car, but he did. That dude almost died 48 hours ago. He was ready to rock. Doesn’t care about 100-degree heat. You ask me about my pit crew — Kyle LaPier; what a champion.”

Kyle LaPier changes Josef Newgarden’s left-front tire during race one of the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend at Iowa Speedway. Richard Dole/Lumen

LaPier told RACER he collapsed from all the stings while in his room Thursday night and was taken to the hospital where he was discharged the following morning—just in time to make the flight to Iowa. Despite the pain, with Newgarden’s renowned performances on the 0.875-mile oval, LaPier didn’t want to miss out on the possibility of earning a pair of wins.

Travis Law, crew chief on Newgarden’s car, says he wasn’t surprised to see him return to immediate action; LaPier’s become a “glue guy” who keeps things light and helps keep the tight-knit crew close.

“He looked great. He pitted that car just fine. Write that,” Newgarden continued. “We should be singing Kyle LaPier’s praises. They’re all excellent. Typically when I go into the pits, I know I’m either going to maintain or gain [positions]. That is an asset that you cannot…you can’t second-guess that. It’s certainly something that you can’t undervalue. It is so critical to win these races in the pits. My team performs every time, as well as Will’s.”

LaPier said he has many nicknames within the team but hadn’t heard the new one his driver coined Saturday afternoon. He likes it and thinks it might stick.

“We’ve got to come up with something for Kyle,” Newgarden said. “He is ‘The Hornet’ now from now on. That’s his nickname. I was blown away by the story. I showed up…Kyle is in the hospital…he almost died…what? He’s still coming, though, don’t worry.’ I was like, ‘Why? Stay home!’ Love that guy.”