Wade Cunningham (LEFT) will have a last-minute call-up to IndyCar this weekend at the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, stepping into the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises entry vacated by Mike Conway.
Conway made the decision to step out of the car himself, citing a lack of comfort in oval racing in a statement released by the team. He tested Wednesday at Fontana.
“I'm truly sorry for putting the team and our sponsors in a difficult position, but this is the hardest decision I have ever made in my racing career,” he said. “I've come to realize I'm not comfortable on the ovals and no longer wish to compete on them. I want to stress that I am not finished racing and to this end, I would love to continue with Foyt Racing, but that's something we need to discuss in the future.”
Cunningham has four prior series starts – all on ovals – and has a best of seventh at Kentucky last year in a car jointly entered by AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He competed in Foyt's second car at this year's Indianapolis 500. He'd also tested in Conway's car at Texas earlier this year.
"I didn't get to do any racing at Indy and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to race again," Cunningham said. "I'm pleased that I must have done something right in May to get the phone call.
"We start behind the eight ball because the whole field has tested (at Fontana) in the last two weeks. We just have to bring ourselves up to speed one step at a time and really just make smart gains. You have to have realistic expectations when you show up like this at the last minute."
Cunningham received track time Thursday, with IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield and IZOD IndyCar Series technical director Kevin Blanch observing.
"It's in everyone's best interest that (Cunningham) gets comfortable on the oval," Barfield said. "We have unlimited time today, so we'll watch him closely."
Cunningham, a 28-year-old native of New Zealand, clinched the Firestone Indy Lights title with a victory at Auto Club Speedway (then known as California Speedway). It was the first of his eight victories in the series.
“Fortunately, Wade was available to drive for us, and we're looking forward to working with him again,” said team director Larry Foyt, adding, “Mike's been a great asset to our team, and I'm disappointed that we can't finish out the season together. However, it took a lot of courage for Mike to come forward and we respect him highly for that and we certainly want to honor his decision.”