Team Penske's Will Power managed to secure pole position while still being able to save a set of tyres for the race itself on Sunday afternoon at Barber Motorsports Park - something that the Australian reckons might prove crucial.
"I think it's all pretty close, to be honest," said Power, who will start the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama just ahead of James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. "I was able to do one lap each time on my tyres, so I had two shots at it. It was awfully close. Nothing between everyone.
"I've been basically chasing the Andretti guys to find how they're going so bloody fast [in practice.] Obviously in qualifying we did," Power admitted. "I was thinking it was going to be very tough to beat the Andretti boys, they've been so fast around here.
"But very happy to be on pole," he added. "It was definitely the aim. Puts you in a much better position to keep out of trouble on the start [and] try to get another win." Power has already won at Barber twice before, in 2011 and 2012, and quite fancies picking up a third to add to his tally.
However, Power's Penske team mate Helio Castroneves was less happy with how qualifying turned out, after he ended up the slowest man in the Firestone Fast Six pole-shootout.
"Unfortunately, I let my boys down in qualifying; we were extremely fast and I take the blame for that," he said. "I just went a little bit too deep into the corner, [but] Because the tires were already beat up, the front just didn't control it ... Until that point it was awesome. The car was consistent through the whole qualifying. I knew what we needed to do. I was not expecting that kind of mistake.
"In the end of the day, it's great that we're right in the top six. It's a long race," he added, perking up. "Yeah, no, it feels great. We know we have a good setup. We ran well here before. We're looking forward for tomorrow."
But the Penske drivers know they are up against some stiff competition from the Andretti Autosport pair of Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay, who after dominating the practice sessions went on to qualify in second and third place on the grid making them a clear and present danger for Power to deal with come the green flag.
"All the cars have been quick; having four cars starting in the top ten, that speaks volumes for the team. Second race in a row starting from the front so we're looking forward to [Sunday]," said Hinchcliffe, who came within three hundredths of a second of stealing pole from Power but instead opted not to make a second run in the Firestone Fast Six in order to save a set of tyres for the race.
"With the heat that we are going to face [on Sunday] and the tyres going off the way they are, we figured either having one more run on that set, or a set with one less run on it was going to play into our hands," he explained. "We watched some other guys go out and we weren't sure what to expect, a bit nervous on the timing stand there but we held our second place. And hopefully with one less heat cycle on the tyres we'll be in a better position."
As for Hunter-Reay, last year's pole- and race-winner was slightly disappointed to be bumped down to the second row of the grid for the start of the race. "Starting third is two shy of where we want to be, but it's a good start," he insisted. "We can go to work from there and can definitely win this thing from third.
"It was a tight qualifying session today; we knew it was going to be," he added. "With the level of drivers and teams we have involved, it was going to be a fight to the very end. We tried it and came up short, but overall I think third is good for the #28."
The dark horse in the mix with the potential to upset things at the front is Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden, who performed strongly in practice at Barber before going on to qualify in fourth place, putting him alongside Hunter-Reay for the green flag this afternoon.
"If you're quick in all three practice sessions, it bodes better for the weekend," he smiled. " For us we found something that clicks better on the race car and for me.
"It's hard to do in a small group," he pointed out, referring to the challenge of being in a single-car team. "We don't want to make any excuses, but we've just been getting better as a team. Everyone works together better. I've been doing a better job of helping the team find what we need. That's crucial. I feel good about it. Think we have a better package than we've had around here in the past."
Newgarden's first task at the start of the race will be to hold off the inevitable attack from Scott Dixon, with the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion starting behind him on the fifth row and very keen to make as much early progress as possible.
"It's great to see Josef, a hell of a driver, good to see him on top form," said Dixon of his first challenge of the day. Good to see him in the top six where I think he should be a lot of time.
"I think we need to keep up to speed a little bit with the changes and how the track changes," he continued, pointing out how the Alabama heat will play its part in the 90-lap, 214.2-mile race.
"The last few years it's been a lot cooler because we've been three weeks earlier on the schedule," he said. "The track temperature is 30 or 40 degrees warmer than you typically have. That's a big change. Plus there's small categories, different tyres, that make the track greasier. But I think the temperature is the biggest difference."
Whether the high temperatures will also result in hot heads is another matter entirely, with Power already knowing that he goes into this weekend's race with Simon Pagenaud still fuming over their clash at Long Beach two weeks ago - something both men are still surprised that Power didn't receive a penalty for.
"I think there needs to be some clarification of how far up you need to be, what clean racing is," agreed Power. "We'll talk about it in the drivers meeting, come up with some compromise.
"Like I said, what happened between Pagenaud and myself, I feel bad - he had every right to be really angry," said Power, before adding that on-track revenge feuds beloved of other championships such as NASCAR weren't the way to go with open wheel racing.
"I think the payback system is not going to work very well for us with these cars and the tracks we go to," he said. "It will become dangerous."
Full qualifying report
Full qualifying results