Neither Briscoe nor Castroneves could dislodge Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Alex Tagliani from second place in the timesheets, however. Tagliani had raised eyebrows by topping the times on Monday - the only prior day of clear running that the drivers have had since Opening Day on Saturday. At the time, Tagliani's fast time was rather dismissed, being set during cold and windy conditions unrepresentative of the weather expected for qualifying and the race itself; however, he repeated the feat in the warmer conditions on Thrusday and demonstrated that his pace is absolutely not a fluke or one-off.
"We did well today. We learned a lot. We had good track position, and we weren't in a lot of traffic," said Tagliani. "It shows that the car is quick and capable of doing it. I think we still have more to come. We just need to make sure that when it comes time to do it, we have the right balance ... We should be proud that guys like Roger and Chip are looking at us, going, 'Why are those guys so quick?' That's kind of our mindset right now!"
However, Tagliani aside, Penske's main opposition for the Indy 500 (and for the IndyCar title overall) is Ganassi, and they had a more muted day with Scott Dixon in eighth, 0.2313s off Power's time; and Dario Franchitti a disappointing 16th and 0.3809s off Power.
"It was a good, long day. Running lots of laps and in race setup was what is was all about," said Dixon. "It was nice to have the sun out after we lost a few days!"
"We focused on race setup because we weren't sure how much more time we'd get doing that," explained Franchitti of his own performance. "We're just working through the program right now, but we've got more work to do. I'm OK with where we're at right now. The last run there we found something. Looking forward to tomorrow."
Andretti Autosports continue to be the more worrying of the big name teams, with Danica Patrick their highest-placed driver in 10th.
Notably, Danica seemed to be in a reflective - even nostalgic - frame of mind when talking about the Indy 500 today, wistfully remarking at one point that "It seems like it was not that long ago that it was my first time here [in 2005] ... It was a great day, a life-changing day." She narrowly lost the race to Dan Wheldon that year, but it was Danica who was made a national star by that year's events. Her nostalgia sparked a fresh run of rumours in the media that she doesn't expect to return for another Indy 500 in 2012 - and that she may be on the verge of announcing a full-time switch to NASCAR.
For the time being, however, Patrick was just staying focussed on the immediate task in front of her. "I really am approaching this like any other year," she said. "Actually, I feel like I get more nervous every year. I'm more nervous coming into it this year than last year. Maybe it's because you're getting older and on some level you think you have less of them to do, I don't know. I also think after this many years, being here, it starts to really sink in what this event is all about."
On the basis of the times shown today, anyone not already running at 224mph or above is in trouble - and that's bad news for Davey Hamilton, Raphael Matos, James Jakes and Sebastian Saavedra, and less surprisingly for the Dragon rookie duo of Ho-Pin Tung and Scott Speed who are suffering from lack of on-track time so far.
"It was an eventful day, to say the least," said Speed. "We had a lot of trouble with the car earlier in the day, luckily without doing any damage. However, on our last time out today, we were able to get the car where we wanted it to be."