Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400 Track Preview

With the second race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in Richmond this weekend, what do we need to know about the track before filling out NASCAR DFS lineups?

One of the unique challenges with daily fantasy NASCAR is that every track is different. Not only does this mean that certain drivers will perform better at one place than another, but each track will have different scoring tendencies than the previous one. That means we need to alter our strategies pretty drastically.

Each week here on numberFire, we're going to dig into the track that's hosting the upcoming weekend's race to see what all we need to know when we're setting our lineups. We'll have a separate piece that looks at drivers who have excelled there in the past; here, we just want to know about the track itself. Once qualifying has been completed, we'll also have a primer detailing which drivers fit this strategy and should be in your lineup for that week.

This week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is heading to Richmond for the second race in the first round of the playoffs. Richmond is a flat, short track that figures to feature plenty of action Saturday night. What do we need to know before filling out lineups for NASCAR DFS? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

The opening race of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs got a little wonky. Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, and Chase Elliott all wrecked and are now on the outside looking in with the first cutoff coming in two races. They need some help.

Thankfully, Richmond can provide that.

Richmond is a flat, shorter track just three-quarters of a mile in length. The nature of this track neutralizes equipment a bit, letting more drivers have a shot at a win. It can also lead to extra calamity, bringing drivers currently in the top 12 in points back to Hamlin, Jones, and Elliott.

Saturday night's going to be wild, and that can make things fun both as a viewer and a DFS player.

The scheduled distance Saturday is 400 laps, which gives us 40 points available for laps led, based on FanDuel's scoring rules. That's quite a hefty number, and it's going to play a big role in how we construct our lineups.

In the past 5 races at Richmond, 7 drivers have led at least 100 laps in a single race, which equates to 10 points on FanDuel. That's a significant bump. And there are multiple drivers who could receive that bump Saturday night.

It doesn't hurt that Richmond -- unlike recent stops like Darlington and Las Vegas -- is less likely to be dominated by a single driver. In this same 5-race sample, the maximum laps led by a driver in a race is 198 by Martin Truex Jr. in last year's fall race, meaning nobody has led more than half the laps. In each of these races, there have been multiple drivers leading 75 or more laps.

Laps led are one of the two big sources of upside (place-differential points are the other), and they figure to flow on Saturday night. This means we need to target drivers capable of getting them.

For the most part, those laps led will come from drivers starting toward the front. The past 5 pole-sitters have all led at least 60 laps in the race, and 6 of the 7 drivers to lead 100 laps started in the top 6 spots. When Truex led 198 laps, he started 5th, and he also led 193 laps from the 6th spot the year before that. It's not a requirement that you start on the pole to lead a bunch of laps, but it also doesn't hurt.

You can get some place-differential points here, too, as long as the car starting toward the back is strong enough.

The best example of that comes from this spring's race. There, Kyle Busch started 32nd and wound up winning the race, leading 32 laps in the process. Fast cars can finish well if they start in the back.

It's very possible we could find these opportunities this weekend. Richmond is an impound race, meaning inspection does not take place until after qualifying. If a car fails post-qualifying inspection, its qualifying time will be disallowed, and that driver will start in the back. Because inspection is not scheduled to take place until around noon Eastern time, you will need to carve out time Saturday afternoon to tinker with lineups just in case a driver does fail inspection, putting them in position to pick up a bunch of place-differential points.

So, we need to find laps led, but we can also get upside from drivers starting in the back. What's the proper balance to strike here? Let's look back at scoring trends in these past five races to find out.

Historic Scoring Trends

In our 5-race sample, there have been 5 drivers who have scored at least 97 points on FanDuel before there's a dropoff to the 6th-highest scorer at 91.3 points. These are the "can't-fade" drivers of the week. And the way they got to those point totals makes sense based on our previous discussion.

Three drivers were frontrunners, starting in the top 6 spots and leading at least 150 laps in the race. One of them was Busch this spring, starting 32nd and finishing 1st. The other was a blend of the two as Brad Keselowski in the 2017 spring race started 15th, led 110 laps, and finished 2nd.

Keselowski's a tad bit of an oddball here. He wasn't at the extreme front of the pack, meaning our projection for his laps led in the race would have been lowered. But he also didn't have the same place-differential upside as Busch. His being an outlier is further illustrated by looking at the FanDuel-point output of drivers based on their starting position over the past five races.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Richmond, 2016 to 2018

From a ceiling perspective, Keselowski's in no-man's land. You could almost put Truex in that same tier in the race where he led 193 laps from the 6th spot.

In this 5-race sample, 22 drivers have managed to score at least 80 FanDuel points. Here's where those 22 drivers started the race.

Starting Position Drivers With 80+ FD Points
1st to 5th 9
6th to 10th 2
11th to 15th 2
16th to 20th 5
21st to 25th 1
26th to 30th 2
31st to 35th 1
36th to 40th 0

Only 4 drivers have started between 6th and 15th and scored at least 80 FanDuel points compared to 5 drivers starting in a smaller range from 16th to 20th. If you think about it, this makes sense.

The drivers starting between 6th and 15th -- despite what Truex and Keselowski did -- are less likely to lead a bunch of laps than those starting at the front. But they also have less place-differential upside than the drivers starting 16th on back. This results in a bit of a dead zone from a scoring perspective before things pick back up further back.

With Truex and Keselowski, though, we've seen that we can't ignore this range completely. You can lead a bunch of laps from those spots, and if a driver manages to do so, they can be the highest-scoring driver of the race. So what do we do with drivers who find themselves in this relative dead zone?

It largely depends on who the driver is. If it's someone like Busch, Kevin Harvick, Truex, or Keselowski, we can feel good about targeting them. They're likely to get some place-differential points, and there's the upside that they could do even more. For a top-end driver, that zone is just fine.

But for a more mid-tier asset, it's fair to be a bit skeptical of them if they're in that range. These types of drivers are less likely to have the upside to lead a bunch of laps, and their floor will be a bit lower, too, due to the lower expected finishing position. You'll likely be able to find drivers with a similar expected finishing position starting lower in the pack, and they would be the more desirable asset over drivers in that range from 6th to 15th.

Now that that's settled, let's go back to the original question. What's the proper blend of drivers who will lead laps and those who can pick up place-differential points?

A good way to answer this is by looking back at the five highest-scoring drivers here in each of the past five races and where they started. This can give us a look at what an "optimal" lineup looks like if we're shooting for only the top-end assets. The table below shows the five highest-scoring drivers from these races with the "1st" column showing the starting spot of the driver who scored the most points in that race and so on.

Race 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Spring 2018 32nd 3rd 28th 17th 2nd
Fall 2017 27th 4th 12th 20th 16th
Spring 2017 15th 16th 5th 25th 13th
Fall 2016 1st 6th 17th 19th 2nd
Spring 2016 4th 9th 3rd 1st 8th

Clear as mud.

Although this doesn't tell us definitively that we need X players starting in the top Y positions, it does give us some guidance for filling out lineups.

Remember when we touched on all the pole-sitters who led at least 60 laps? Only two of them wound up being among the top-five scorers. That's because Richmond is a short track, and weird things can happen there. A driver who leads a bunch of laps can crash, and you're not getting a good fantasy day out of them then.

This is why we see varied structures among the five highest scorers. In the 2017 fall race, Truex led 198 laps but wound up finishing 20th. When this happens, you're essentially trimming the number of laps to be led for contending cars to 202, which equates to 20.2 points for laps led. That's far different than the 40 points if all the lap leaders were to finish up front.

There are two DFS takeaways from this. First, we have to be wary with our exposure levels if we're doing multiple tournament entries. Even the best play can crash on a short track, and we don't want to go home empty-handed if our surefire stud is in the fence. Our exposure to each driver should be capped a tad lower than tehy would have been at a place like Michigan, for example.

Second, we need to have a bit of flexibility in our roster construction. We should have lineups where we have multiple drivers starting in the top 10, assuming the race is clean and that the drivers who get the laps-led upside finish toward the front. But we should have other lineups where we stick with just one driver at the front who we think can win before peppering the back of the field in search of place-differential points.

Part of this will likely be dictated by qualifying. If multiple fast drivers qualify poorly -- or fail post-qualifying inspection -- there will be a lot of place-differential points to be had. Then, we'll likely want to dabble a bit more back there and have more lineups with just one driver in the top 10.

If qualifying is relatively straightforward, we'll want to shoot for as many laps led as possible. Given that this is the playoffs, and teams realize how important it is to qualify up front, we should likely assume this will be the more likely scenario. It's also the one that fits better with our strategy of emphasizing finding laps led.

As far as punting goes, it's far more viable here than it was last week in Las Vegas. Matt DiBenedetto finished 16th after qualifying 27th here in the spring, good for 70.7 FanDuel points, and that'll absolutely work if it gets you extra upside elsewhere. These low-cost drivers should likely start somewhere in the same range as DiBenedetto (between 26th and 30th) as a finish somewhere near the top 15 would generate enough points to keep us from capping the upside of our roster.