Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Menard, Larson lead practices as Hamlin wrecks hard at Indianapolis

Paul Menard snuck into the top spot on the leaderboard just before the end of final Monster Energy Series practice, and Denny Hamlin smacked his No. 11 Toyota hard into the wall after the red-and-black flag already had been displayed as his car erupted into flames at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday.

RELATED: Final practice results

The 50-minute practice session had already ended when Hamlin’s car did not turn as it approached Turn 4, it careened into the wall and fire trailed behind his rear bumper. He brought his car to a stop soon afterward, and exited the vehicle. His crew rolled out his backup car immediately.

“It was big for sure,” Hamlin told NBCSN of the end of practice incident. “It was the last corner and I think the red flag had been out for a minute or so. We had just got into Turn 1 when the red went out and we were going to finish our lap. It just blew a right-front. We hadn’t seen any wear issues so we might have run something over or whatever.”

Meanwhile, Menard’s lap of 185.079 mph in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford bettered Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s second-fastest lap of 184.151 mph in his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

Last week’s Darlington winner Erik Jones in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (183.550 mph), Chris Buescher in the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet (183.385 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota (183.050 mph) rounded out the top five.

The Monster Energy Series returns to the track Sunday morning for Busch Pole Qualifying at 10:35 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App) before the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch topped the leaderboard in first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Larson wheeling his No. 42 Chevrolet around the 2.5-mile track for a fast lap of 185.025 mph on Saturday.

RELATED: First practice results

Busch, meanwhile, was second-fastest at 184.763 mph in his No. 1 Chevrolet in the practice session in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford (184.600 mph), Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (184.305 mph) and Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet (183.685 mph) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson, who is a four-time winner at Indianapolis and is currently below the cutline for the 16-driver playoff field, led for much of the session, but wound up with the ninth-fastest lap of 182.700 mph in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The No. 95 Toyota of Matt DiBenedetto served a 15-minute practice hold at the end of the session for failing inspection twice at Darlington last week.