Stormy weather ahead?

AVONDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, walks on pit road prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on February 28, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

AVONDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 28: Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, walks on pit road prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on February 28, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz.—Phoenix is in the heart of the Sonoran desert—as in dry.

It hasn’t rained here in more than 70 days.

So why is there so much conversation in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage about the weather?

It’s not just casual conversation. There’s a massive storm over the Pacific, and it’s headed across Southern California on a beeline for Greater Phoenix. Most forecasts have rain falling when the two Cup practice sessions on Saturday are supposed to take place.

With the new knockout qualifying format in effect for the first time in the Cup series this week, the possibility of a practice washout on Saturday put enormous pressure on drivers and race teams to mine as much data as possible from Friday’s 90-minute opening practice session.

“We’ve been talking about it for a week now,” said Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick, “because we’ve seen the forecast, and you just have to go out and try to put as many things together as you can and collect as much data as you can, so you can put your race setup together for Sunday.

“You know that qualifying is important, but you also have to concentrate as much as you can on the race stuff. There are so many things that you have to put into an hour and a half that you have to prioritize.”

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