This weekend marks the end of what has been an exciting 2012 NASCAR season. All three of the sport’s top-tier series will run their finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway in south Florida during Ford Championship Weekend. Last year, periodic showers made for a long day for the Sprint Cup Series, dragging out the drama between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards as they battled for the title. This year, we may again see the weather play a factor throughout the weekend, especially for the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series races.
A weak frontal boundary is currently draped across the Sunshine State, which has not lived up to its name in its northern and central regions today. Homestead lies on the south side of the front, where temperatures rose into the low 80s across South Florida Thursday afternoon, while places like Tallahassee held in the 50s and Orlando was in the 60s. As we go through Friday and Saturday, low pressure will develop along the front just off the Atlantic coast, and may eventually drag a cool front through South Florida on Sunday. All this means a chance of showers Friday and Saturday, albeit low, then we should see drier air build in behind the front on Sunday in time for the Sprint Cup finale. Even if the front doesn’t make it through South Florida, the thinking is that the area of low pressure off the east coast should pull away far enough to bring that drier air into the Homestead area. The good news for Friday and Saturday is that the track has lights, and the showers do not appear likely to be widespread or numerous, so odds are we’ll get all the racing in this weekend.
Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 for the Camping World Truck Series is scheduled for an 8pm ET start. This period of time unfortunately looks to be the most likely time for any showers to fall on the speedway, but fortunately, again it looks like showers will be scattered. Because the race is starting at night, it could make things a little tricky for NASCAR should there be a significant delay, as that could cause a shortened race or a delay to Saturday. Skies will be mostly cloudy, with green flag temperatures in the low 70s, only cooling a couple degrees to 68-69 by the end of the race. Northeast winds will be in the 10-15 mph range throughout the day and night Friday.
On Saturday, we’ll crown the NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion after the Ford EcoBoost 300. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will try to hold off teammates Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon for his second consecutive title, with a scheduled start at 4:45pm ET. Skies will remain mostly cloudy for this one as well and isolated showers will be possible again. If you like percentages, I’ll call this about a 20% chance of showers Saturday. I think we’ll be able to get this race in even with a delay, and I don’t see more than one lengthy delay being possible on Saturday, if there’s a stoppage at all. The track will go through some relatively minor changes despite the start during daylight, as temperatures will only drop from around 77 for the green flag to the low 70s by the end of the race, and there won’t be much sunshine on the track during the day. That northeast wind will pick up, gusting at times to around 20-25 mph at times.
Finally, Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (I love how they have such a logical increase in race distances during Ford Championship Weekend!). As mentioned earlier, either a weak cool front (you won’t notice any cooler temperatures, but the air may be a bit drier or less humid) will pass through, or slightly drier air building in on the backside of low pressure off the east coast, which should keep the rain just east and northeast of the area. I can’t be 100% confident we won’t have a shower sneak in at some point on Sunday, but I don’t expect as many issues getting the race in as we had in this race last year. Skies will be partly to mostly cloudy, so perhaps a little more sunshine than Friday and Saturday, but temperatures will be similar. We’ll be around 80 degrees at the drop of the green flag, which is scheduled for 3:15pm ET, and cool to around 73 by the end of the race, so we should see another change in track conditions, perhaps a bit more impactful than Saturday, since we may see a little more sunshine Sunday. Winds will be lighter, generally out of the north at around 10 mph. Overall, it looks like a comfortable weekend for those in attendance with warm Florida temperatures and at least no thunderstorms in the forecast. It will be interesting to see if the #48 team still has that golden horseshoe around, or if Roger Penske will finally get the championship he has deserved for so long with Brad Keselowski.
I want to thank all of you for reading my forecasts since I joined the team here at Beyond the Flag about halfway through the year. I always enjoy the opportunity to put together two of my biggest passions, NASCAR and meteorology, and share them with anyone who is interested, and I look forward to a full season of forecasting for you in 2013! Enjoy the weekend!