CLICK: Full practice 1 times from Auto Club Speedway
They ran only nine laps each at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, but Penske team mates and chief title rivals Will Power and Helio Castroneves were nonetheless very much in charge in Friday's first practice session on the two-mile oval.
Power got the edge with a best lap of 32.5220s (221.389mph) which was already ahead of the two-lap average qualifying record that he set here last year when he won pole position. Castroneves was just 0.0051s off Power's time.
Power has a 51 point lead over Castroneves coming into this weekend's race, the final event in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. However the race carries with it double points which means that the winner could make up as much as 104 points on Saturday night, meaning that Power's work in finally clinching a long-sought series title is far from done.
As well as Castroneves, Power also has to be wary of the threat from Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport's Simon Pagenaud, who is a further 30 points off the leader coming into this weekend. The remaining contenders - Scott Dixon (Ganassi) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autoport) - are no longer in the running now that Power will definitely earn at least a minimal number of points this weekend following his participation in practice.
Pagenaud was 12th fastest in the 75-minute practice, the only session that the drivers get before afternoon qualifying. Even so, Pagenaud was only 0.4593s off Power's time, with 21 of the 22 drivers managing to keep within a second of the Penske with only Dale Coyne Racing' Carlos Huertas falling outside that margin.
Pagenaud did not seem to be suffering from any after-effects from his crash in a mid-week open test session at Fontana, which saw his day end early with a trip into the SAFER barrier at turn 2. There were no equivalent incidents on Friday morning, which saw only a brief yellow for track inspection and clean-up.
Ed Carpenter was third fastest in the session after getting back behind the wheel of the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. Scott Dixon was fourth fastest having topped the timesheets in the midweek open test, with his Ganassi team mates Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball both within two hundredths of a second of his laptime.
In all, the top six cars were all from the Chevrolet stable with the fastest Honda runner being Pagenaud's Schmidt Peterson Motorports team mate Mikhail Aleshin in seventh place ahead of the third Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The top ten was rounded out by Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) and Ryan Briscoe (Ganassi).
Because of the high temperatures in California this weekend, teams have been permitted to run high-flow radiators on their car to prevent overheating issues and engine failures that were prevalent in last year's event.
Single car time trial qualifying for the MAVTV500 takes place at 2.15pm (10.15pm BST) on Friday afternoon, with drivers then getting a second 30 minute practice in the early evening at 6.15pm (2.15am BST).
That's the last opportunity the drivers get to take to the track before the green flag for the race itself on Saturday evening at 7.20pm (3.20am). In the UK, the race will be shown live on digital subscription channel ESPN.
See full practice 1 times from Auto Club Speedway