MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Clint Bowyer got his defense of last year’s STP 500 victory off to a fast start by leading Saturday’s opening round of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Martinsville Speedway.
Bowyer topped the speed charts with a fast lap of 19.387 seconds (97.674 mph) in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers Ford on his last of 49 circuits turned during the 50-minute session.
The Emporia, Kan., driver won the race at Martinsville last spring, snapping a winless drought of more than 200 races, and hopes to have a repeat performance on Sunday afternoon.
“After California, blowing up on lap 10 was kind of a Debbie Downer … so to come here and have a Mobil 1 Ford that’s really fast is encouraging,” noted Bowyer. “There are some things that are different, with how you race in the corners here with this new package, but really, it’s the same old Martinsville.”
Bowyer’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates – Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola – timed in second- and third-fastest, respectively, during Friday’s opening practice round. They were followed by the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott completed the top 10 on speed.
Nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson was 13th-quick in the opening session on Friday.
William Byron popped the wall with his No. 24 Chevrolet less than five minutes into the session when he cut a right-front tire, while Corey LaJoie had to pull out a backup car after he lost brakes and destroyed the right side of his No. 32 Ford.