Cup practices at Martinsville have mixed bag of leaders

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 23: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 SiriusXM Toyota, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 23, 2019 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With teams toggling back and forth between race trim and qualifying trim, Saturday’s two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice sessions at Martinsville Speedway produced radically different groups of cars at the top of the leaderboard.

Clint Bowyer, defending race winner in Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), paced the opening session with a lap at 97.674 mph. Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola, Bowyer’s teammates at Stewart-Haas racing, were second and third fastest, respectively.

Happy Hour was a completely different story. With Chase Elliott leading the way at 97.542 mph, Hendrick Motorsports drivers claimed the top three spots on the leaderboard. Alex Bowman was second fastest, followed by nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, who is looking for a turnaround after four straight finishes of 12th or worse at the .526-mile short track.

Martin Truex Jr., the victim of a last-lap bump-and-run in last year’s Playoff race at Martinsville, figures to be a contender again Sunday, after leading consecutive-lap averages over runs of five, 10 and 20 laps.

Near the end of final practice, Cody Ware wheel-hopped into the outside wall. His No. 51 Chevrolet sustained heavy damage in the accident.

Greg Engle