This weekend, NASCAR drivers will prove that they can in fact turn left AND right in a stock car, and usually do it even better than those who spend their career doing it in other forms of motorsports. The Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series will be in two very different parts of the country, but both will be taking on road courses, and perhaps dodging some raindrops as well.
It seems like it has been forever since we’ve had a clear-cut, dry weather forecast for a NASCAR weekend. This weekend is unfortunately not an exception, but it is by no means a washout forecast either. Last week, I mentioned that thunderstorm complexes would be an issue for the Nationwide Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this weekend, and that is certainly the case. In fact, one of them is passing over the track as I am writing this and is likely to delay or wash out much of today’s scheduled practice sessions, even if they pull out the rain tires, because the rain is so heavy.
Some models are indicating that another of these disturbances, perhaps a bit weaker, will develop and roll through late tonight into tomorrow morning, which could have an impact on qualifying tomorrow morning. But as also mentioned last week, forecasting these beyond a day, even half a day, can be extremely difficult because how they move and evolve in the future depends very much on their past. Weather forecasting is a lot like NASCAR… it might look easy on TV, but it’s not!
So there’s a chance we could have a wet track Saturday morning as there could be either lingering moisture on the track from morning rains, or there could be some lingering showers on the back side of this thunderstorm complex, if it develops. So what about the race?
The good news is that, while models are showing another storm complex popping up over the Plains, this next one looks like it wants to go further north and miss the track. Again, it’s impossible to be sure until the storms actually develop, but we at least have some good model agreement to work with. We’ll have to keep an eye on isolated showers or thunderstorms that could develop on their own within the warm and humid air mass that will be in place over the track, but I think chances are good that we get the race in, especially since the Nationwide Series will run rain tires if necessary.
Look for partly to mostly cloudy skies on Saturday with green flag temperatures around 85 degrees cooling to the low 80s by the end of the Johnsonville Sausage 200. Winds will be out of the south at 10-15 mph, so not much of an issue for racers or spectators. For campers, it will be muggy at night with lows in the mid-upper 60s Saturday and Sunday morning, and please keep an eye on the weather as if one of these thunderstorm complexes does move through, they will almost certainly contain gusty winds that could wreak havoc on your campsite. I’ve been there and seen that!
That brings us to the Sprint Cup Series Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. Qualifying is set for 11:05am local time (~3pm ET), and this will mark the first time the Cup Series has used the group qualifying procedure that the Nationwide Series has been using recently. The weather looks perfect Saturday with sunny skies, highs around 80 and lows in the low 50s. It will be around 74 degrees as they begin to set the field for Sunday’s race, with a light breeze out of the west-southwest.
I think we’ll get the race in on Sunday, but it is a little closer call than I’d like and most were expecting. A storm system will roll into northern California from the Pacific Ocean Sunday afternoon, and there is a small chance that some showers could reach as far south as the Sonoma area around or just after the race starts. I think they will be light and sporadic though, so at this point I am not terribly worried about any delays. We’ll just have to keep an eye on this system and see if it comes in any sooner or farther south than expected.
Right now I am expecting partly to mostly cloudy skies and temperatures around 70 degrees at the drop of the green just after 3pm ET, and we’ll top out in the middle 70s as the race comes to an end. Winds will be out of the southwest at around 7-14 mph.
Next week, the Race to the Chase begins at Kentucky Motor Speedway. All three of NASCAR’s premier series are on the schedule for night racing, with the Camping World Trucks kicking things off on Thursday, the Nationwide Series on Friday, and Cup on Saturday. Thursday night is looking iffy right now as a cold front should be passing through the area around that time, bringing a good chance of rain with it, but also some pleasantly cool temperatures behind it for the rest of the race weekend. I’ll keep the sleeves rolled up and work out the details next week, so be sure to check back in with us here at BeyondTheFlag.com!