Mike Conway surprised everyone - even his own team - when he asked AJ Foyt Racing to release him from this weekend's MAVTV 500 IZOD IndyCar Series finale on the two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval racetrack in Fontana, California.

"I've come to realize I'm not comfortable on the ovals and no longer wish to compete on them," Conway announced on Thursday afternoon, apologising to his team and sponsors for the late decision to pull out. "This is the hardest decision I have ever made in my racing career."

His fellow racers on pit road understood his feelings and were broadly supportive of his decision.

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"I look up to Mike," said championship contender Ryan Hunter-Reay on Friday at Fontana. "He was somewhere mentally that he didn't want to be. He was man enough to say, 'Hey, this is not working for me right now.'

"Instead of going out there and being in a bad place mentally in one of these cars - which is a very dangerous thing to do, these cars are dangerous enough, racing on a track like this is dangerous enough - but to be in a bad place mentally and do it is not right. That's a smart decision from him.

"Ovals haven't been that nice to him either, you know, especially with Indy," Hunter-Reay continued, referencing the horror smash in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 which started with contact between Conway and Hunter-Reay on the final lap and saw Conway's car thrown into the air and torn up by the catchfence.

Conway suffered a broken leg and neck and back injurie that sidelined him from racing for the rest of the season. On his next outing at Indy in May this year, his race also ended in a serious crash this time with Will Power, although Conway escaped this one without any major injuries.

Although Conway hasn't explained his decision in detail, Hunter-Reay was assuming that it was incidents like this that had contributed to Conway's growing unease on the longer ovals: "If he doesn't feel like it, there's other days to fight this whole thing out. He chose to do that. I really look up to him for that."

Hunter-Reay's rival for the 2012 IndyCar title, Will Power, was also sympathetic of Conway's decision: "There's no shame in what he did, at all, considering some of the things that happened to him.

"I can understand how he feels," said Power. "If the car's not right around here, you don't even want to be out there. Yeah, that's ballsy to say, Hey, I don't feel comfortable. Full credit to him.

"He's a great driver, too," Power added. "He's one of the quickest guys on the circuit. It's just the circumstance."

Dario Franchitti - who will be handing over his IndyCar Series title to new hands this weekend - was insistent that there was nothing lacking in Conway's courage or commitment behind the wheel.

"I was thinking about it last night and I thought, 'If you watched him through the chicane at Baltimore, bravery isn't an issue for Mike Conway,'" said the Indianapolis 500 champion. "I think it takes a very brave person to say, 'No, I don't like doing that.'"

Franchitti's car owner Chip Ganassi said that the modern cars were proving to be "a very temperamental animal to keep under control" and that even the best in the business were scaring themselves in the cockpit.

"You don't want to see anybody stepping out of something they love, but I don't think anybody has not expressed fear from time to time," said Ganassi. "That's part and parcel of IndyCar racing. I just hope that Mike has the right group of people around him, I hope he was just having a bad day."

Randy Bernard, the chief executive of the IndyCar Series, said he had yet to catch up with Conway and find out more about the English driver's decision not to compete on ovals any more.

"I like Mike a lot, but I think everyone knows that racing is very dangerous," said Bernard. "I haven't talked to him so I haven't heard him say what drove him to his decision."

One driver who seemed to be even more in sync with Conway's state of mind was KV Racing's EJ Viso, reports PressSnoop.com's Lynne Huntting.

"If more downforce is not fitted for this race I'm not racing," Viso tweeted after qualifying. His formal post-session quotes developed that growing sense of unease: "I don't feel comfortable on this track.

"It is extremely bumpy and irregular. I feel that the drivers are extremely exposed and I don't blame Mike Conway for deciding not to race here," he said, before reiterating: "If the series doesn't decide to add more downforce I won't race. It's tough to understand where the challenge ends and the stupidity begins."

Conway's seat for Saturday night's race has been taken by young Kiwi racer Wade Cunningham, who felt Conway had made a brave and correct call. "You have to respect the guy," said Cunningham.

"I don't think anyone doesn't understand his decision," he continued. "He had a couple of really big accidents and if you are not comfortable out there, then there's no point doing it. Obviously, I don't think he's the happiest he's been emotionally. But he looked like a guy who was content with the decision."

Cunningham has already had his own encounter with the wall this weekend with a trip into the SAFER barrier at turn 2 during the early evening second practice on Friday.

"I was exploring different lines on the track and I hadn't been that aggressive changing lanes," Cunningham explained. "Just judged it on the seams of the track and got caught out."

That's just the sort of scary experience that Conway will doubtless be happy to miss out on in future.

With additional reporting from Fontana by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com