Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin was the fastest man on track at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday in the first of the two practice sessions ahead of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship race, the STP 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Hamlin recorded a best time of 19.499s (97.113mph) on the 0.526-mile oval, the shortest circuit on the calendar, which was still two and a half tenths off the pole winning time recorded by Penske's Joey Logano on Friday evening. Logano himself was only 15th fastest in the 55-minute morning practice.

Full Saturday practice times from Martinsville

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Hamlin - a four time winner at the Paperclip who will start Sunday's race from 15th place on the grid - was 0.025s ahead of a trio of Hendrick Motorsports drivers, with Jimmie Johnson overcoming early electrical problems in the #48 to finish up in second place in the times just ahead of his team mates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.

Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was somewhat back into the sort of groove that has delivered a stunning run of eight consecutive top two finishes and was tenth fastest after the disappointment of qualifying in 17th.

In the slightly shorter 50-minute afternoon session, Hamlin dropped to fourth place in the standings with a best effort of 19.592s. Johnson and Gordon remained the model of consistency in second and third places just ahead of him.

However, in the top spot for almost the entire final practice session was Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch, who won this race 12 months ago. Having qualified in a disappointing 26th place on Friday, Busch was back on form as the focus turned to race set-up and duly recorded a best lap of 19.502s (97.098mph) just five minutes into the proceedings to put himself 0.058s ahead of Johnson for the rest of the session.

Having qualified on the front row, Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman had a good final run and was fifth fastest in the afternoon practice just ahead of Kahne and Logano, while Harvick continued his climb up the timings to finish the final session in eighth place with a best time of 19.632s, 0.130s off his SHR team mate's time at the top of the timesheets.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most recent driver to make it to victory lane at Martinsville last autumn, continued to struggle to find that sort of form or the same level of performance as the rest of his Hendrick team mates and was a middling 18th in both of the day's practices.

Ahead of his Sprint Cup race d?but, reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott was a promising 20th in the morning but dropped back again to 27th in the afternoon, matching his qualifying position. The 19-year-old has been signed up by the Hendrick squad to take over the seat of the #24 car in 2016 once Jeff Gordon retires from full time competition at the end of the current season.

Front Row Motorsports' David Gilliland was 29th and 26th respectively in the day's sessions ahead of his 300th start in the Sprint Cup Series. That put him consistently ahead of his current FRM team mate Chris Buescher who is once again deputising in the #34 car for David Ragan who is currently on loan to Joe Gibbs Racing as a replacement for Kyle Busch who is still recovering from leg and foot fractures sustained in a support race at Daytona last month.

Ragan - who qualified for this weekend's race in 20th position - was 24th fastest in Saturday's morning practice, and slipped to 25th in the afternoon session.

Full Saturday practice times from Martinsville

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