Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Why Practice and Qualifying Provide Essential Information
It's 6:35 pm on a Tuesday. You've got your daily fantasy baseball lineups all locked and loaded, and you're ready to win some cash on the shoulders of Corey Kluber and his nasty breaking ball.
But in his bullpen session before the game, Kluber can't get a feel for that offspeed pitch. He's struggling to get that patented bite, sapping him of his best asset on the mound. Once the game starts, those struggles continue, and Kluber gets rocked. So does your bankroll as a result.
Wouldn't it have been nice to know beforehand that Kluber wasn't quite feeling it? His struggles in warmups would have been valuable info to have, and had you known, you could have looked elsewhere in your pitcher slot.
That's one of the biggest beauties of daily fantasy NASCAR.
This is the one DFS sport where practice sessions are public, and you can see which drivers are fast in a given weekend. On top of that, you get additional info from a driver's qualifying session, helping you identify which racers could wind up being the best investments for the week.
But practice and qualifying sessions are going to mean different things depending on which track the series is at that weekend. So how can we properly apply this data into making sound lineup decisions? Let's check it out.
Where to Find Practice and Qualifying Information
Before we get into how you can apply this vital info to your lineups, it's probably wise to detail where you can find practice and qualifying speeds. Thankfully, that part's not too hard.
Qualifying and practice sessions generally take place in the two days leading up to a race. If a race is on Saturday night, then this data will often start rolling in on Thursday. Otherwise, Friday is the day to start getting locked in.
Once a session is completed, you'll be able to see the full results on NASCAR's website. You can go to the site, click the "Race Center" tab at the top of the screen, and see the entry list, practice speeds, and qualifying speeds. This gets you the basics that you'll need for the weekend.
For more detailed information, Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet can be a savior. Along with the single-lap practice speeds, they will post the 10-lap averages for drivers who ran at least 10 consecutive laps in practice. This can illustrate which drivers have speed that will last deeper into a run than a single lap. At some tracks, very few drivers will run 10 consecutive laps in practice, in which case you may want to disregard this data, but it will be a good resource when applicable.
To find 10-lap averages, go to the link above for Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet. Click on the "Quick Links" tab, and find the practice session you want to investigate.
In general, you can find all of this info with a simple Google search as it will be posted in multiple spots. It's not hard to find. If only this were true in other sports, too.
How to Apply It
Now that you've got your spreadsheets full and your lineups ready to fire, let's go through what all this data can mean.
One important note for practice sessions is that not all of them will be geared toward getting the car ready for the race. For example, if a practice session takes place before qualifying, the team may use it, instead, to get their car in tip-top shape for a shorter run. This is why you'll see very few drivers run 10 consecutive laps in the first session of the weekend.
Second, practice will matter more at some tracks than others. In Daytona and Talladega -- where teams use restrictor plates on their engines -- cars run in large packs for the entire race, and they will do the same in later practices. Here, a driver's positioning on the track (drafting off of a pack in front of him or her) can inflate their speed without reflecting the car's true abilities. This means we have to take these results with a grain of salt or -- even better -- disregard them completely.
But that's not the case at most races. This table below looks at each race from the 2017 season to show the correlation between weekend sessions (qualifying and practice) to FanDuel points scored. Some races have fewer practice sessions than others, which is why the rows will be uneven. In this case, the more negative the number is, the tighter the tie between that category and FanDuel points scored.
|Correlations to FD Points||Qualifying||Practice 1||Practice 2||Practice 3|
|Fort Worth 1||-0.302||-0.640||-0.760||-0.763|
|Fort Worth 2||-0.338||-0.607||-0.553||-0.537|
This should show how much our strategy will change from one week to the next. Let's take a look at some key takeaways first.
As mentioned, practice means very little at Daytona and Talladega. All four races at those two tracks ranked 28th or lower in correlation between Practice 1 and FanDuel points (we're looking at Practice 1 here because some weekends had just one practice prior to the race). You can firmly disregard practice speeds at those two tracks.
But if it's a longer track where restrictor plates are not used, practice is pretty crucial. Of the 10 races with the highest correlation between Practice 1 rankings and FanDuel points, 7 are between 1.5 and 2 miles, and another is a 2.45-mile road course. Anecdotally, this makes sense.
At those tracks, speed is more essential, and that speed will be apparent in practice. At shorter tracks, there's more variance due to an increased number of crashes, and the driver will play more of a role relative to the car. We should be putting plenty of stock into practice times at these 1.5- to 2-mile tracks.
This clearly has pretty major implications for DFS. Although you can get lineups into contests early in the week to reserve your seat, you should be altering them later on.
Information from both qualifying and practice is going to have a major impact on the way we view drivers. We can and should still value current form and course history, but we would be foolish to ignore the current-week data.
Qualifying allows us to see which drivers are positioned to lead laps or rack up place-differential points. Those are the two biggest paths to upside in NASCAR DFS, and qualifying will go a long way toward dictating who is capable of getting them.
Practice -- at certain tracks -- can help bolster those inclinations. It can show us which drivers starting at the front have cars that are strong enough to lead laps. And if there's a driver starting near the back who was strong in practice, it's likely an indication they'll make up spots as the race goes along.
It is a bit disappointing not to be able to set all of your lineups early in the week and forget them. But the edge you get by valuing this data is immense. Once you mix the practice and qualifying data with your knowledge of the track and which drivers are inclined to succeed there, you'll be well on your way to filling out some spicy lineups.