Josef Newgarden has heaped praise on his left front tyre changer who helped Team Penske win at Iowa Speedway just days after he “almost died” in a hornet attack.
Title contender Newgarden dominated the latest round of the IndyCar Series at Iowa Speedway, leading the lion’s share of the Hy-VeeDeals.com 250.
It was just a deserved reward for one team member, Kyle LaPier, who only days beforehand found himself lying in hospital.
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“Kyle LaPier, my left front [tyre changer], about died two days ago,” said Newgarden.
“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.”
The pit stop sequence was crucial in Newgarden’s win. The No.12 crew was continually among the fastest all day.
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Although the Nashville native said LaPier “didn’t look great”, the tyre changer had a trouble-free day.
“He pitted that car just fine,” Newgarden said of LaPier.
“Write that. 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. That is an asset that you can’t second-guess.
“It’s certainly something that you just can’t undervalue. It is so critical to win these races in the pits. My team performs every time, as well as Will’s.
“Like I was talking about with [Marcus] Ericsson. You don’t win these championships alone, you don’t perform the way he’s performed alone. You’re normally backed up by a great team.
“I’ve always had great confidence that we have the best team out there. It makes a big difference to win these places, absolutely.”
Newgarden joked LaPier has earned himself a new nickname in the wake of the incident.
“He is ‘The Hornet’ now from now on,” said the two-time series champion.
“That’s his nickname. I was blown away by the story. I showed up and they were like, ‘Kyle is in the hospital, he almost died.
“I’m like ‘What?’ and they’re like ‘Yeah, he’s still coming though, don’t worry.
“I was like, ‘Why? Stay home.’ I love that guy. What’s not to love?”
LaPier isn’t the first member of the IndyCar Series paddock to have an insect encounter.
IndyCar’s most successful driver of all time, AJ Foyt, survived two serious bee attacks.
The second leg of the double-header at Iowa Speedway takes place on Monday at 5am (AEST).
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