Daily Fantasy NASCAR: How to Utilize Track History and Current Form
One of the unique challenges that NASCAR drivers face throughout the season is that every track is different. You can go from lapping the field in Richmond one week to struggling to keep pace with the draft in Talladega the next. Things are constantly changing.
Because each track requires different skills, some drivers will naturally be better at one track than they are at another. One spot can fit their driving style while the other exposes flaws in their equipment. It's frustrating, but it's reality.
This is going to have a big impact on how we handle these drivers in daily fantasy NASCAR. If a driver has struggled historically at Dover, we may want to look elsewhere for one of our precious roster slots when the circuit heads to that venue.
But it's also not quite so simple as identifying which drivers excel at which tracks. We also have to know how well those drivers have done in recent races. They may have changed teams, improved, or declined since the last time they were at that track, which will change the way we view them. We want to make sure that the track history we're looking at represents something we can expect going forward.
That's certainly not the easiest of tasks, and there's no perfect recipe for reconciling current form and track history. But if we want to succeed in NASCAR DFS, we have to give it a shot.
Let's try to better understand these two facets of the sport today. We'll talk about both current form and track history and dissect how we can implement them into our weekly research.
But before we do that, we have to start by discussing an advanced stat that can help us better achieve this goal: average running position.
The Value of Average Running Position
Denny Hamlin went bananas at Phoenix in November of 2017. Hamlin was fighting for a spot in the Round of 4, NASCAR's championship race, and Phoenix was his final chance to nail down that crack at the trophy.
And for most of the race, Hamlin did exactly that. He led 193 of the first 231 laps, including a 152-lap segment in the middle of the race. Nobody could touch him.
But then, Hamlin was battling Chase Elliott for position, and things went sour in a hurry.
Hamlin eventually cut a tire, crashed, and wound up finishing the race in 35th, watching his championship hopes go down the tubes.
If we were trying to judge Hamlin based on this race, and we looked at his 35th-place finish, we would think he struggled at the track. Clearly, that's not the case. If we were to dig a bit deeper and see that he led 193 laps, that opinion would change in a hurry, but we don't always have the time to dig into every past race. We need a shortcut that can tell us this at one glance.
That's where average running position comes into play. This is as simple as it sounds; it's the average spot on the track for that driver on each lap of the race. Whereas a finishing position is just where that driver was on one lap, average running position tells us where they were for the majority of the race.
If we use this for Hamlin, we'll see that his average running position in that Phoenix race was fifth. That's the second-best positioning of any driver in that event. This is a much better representation of how well Hamlin was racing that day, which is a key to judging current form and track history.
Obviously, like all stats, average running position has its blemishes. If a driver starts at the back of the pack and works his or her way to the front, their average running position will be lower by no fault of their own. They could also be on a different pit strategy than the rest of the pack and run lower in the order as a result. That's why it is good to dig into each race whenever you can to get the full picture, but more often than not, average running position is going to be a solid signal for us.
However, unlike where a driver finishes or starts, most sites won't list a driver's average running position in the first wave of data. That doesn't mean it's hard to find, though.
To see each driver's average running position during a race, simply go to Racing Reference. Once there, click the "Cup" banner at the top to see Monster Energy Cup Series results. Then, find the year in which the race took place and click on that season.
Once you have done so, you'll see a list of each race that occurred in that season. Click the number of the race (the far left-hand column) to get more information on that event.
That will bring you to the quick and dirty overview of that race with finishing positions, laps led, and more. But if you click on "Loop Data Stats" at the top of the page, then you will get the goods. This will show you the average running position (listed as Avg. Pos.) for each driver in that race, giving us all the juicy info we could possibly need. You can also see data on how many passes the driver made during that race, providing additional context that you don't get by looking at their finishing position.
Now that you know how to find average running position, it's time to discuss couse history and current form, areas in which average running position will play a major role.
There are going to be tracks where drivers just mop up and others where they struggle. This makes looking back at track history an absolute must.
In an ideal world, you'll be able to grab the average running position for each driver at the track on the next weekend's slate so you can identify patterns and drivers who tend to perform better there than they do at other tracks. If you've got the time, that's absolutely the route to take. But there are also some shortcuts we can deploy.
Another key part of Racing Reference is your ability to look at a track's history on the fly. This time, go to the home page and click "Tracks." Then scroll down to the track you want to investigate and click it.
This will bring you to a list of each Monster Energy Cup Series race that has taken place at that track. This allows you to go back to those races and check out each driver's average running position if you so choose. But you can also click the "View Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver stats at this track" link to get a broader overview.
Once there, you can see each driver's history at that track over the past 10 races, 5 races, or any range you should want. This will allow you to see their average finishes, top-10 finishes, laps led, and all the other info that will help you fill out better lineups.
It's worth proceeding with caution when doing this. As mentioned earlier, some drivers' situations will change, meaning that their past performance at a certain track may not indicate what they should be expected to do in the future.
To counteract this, it's wise to look only at results at that track over the past few years. If there are two races there each year, you can still get a large sample while going back only two to three years. If they race there once per year, then it's fine to dig back a bit deeper so as to get a larger sample, but even then, data from five years ago is likely to be tainted in one way or another.
The other way we can account for this is by factoring in current form. And many of the practices we discussed above will help us in that pursuit, too.
As with track history, checking out each driver's average running position over the past few races is going to be the ideal route for investigating current form. There are some quicker routes here, as well, though.
To start, simply go to the Racing Reference page for the current season. Once there, you'll see links for each race that year so you can check out the advanced stats.
By clicking "View expanded driver standings," you can see average finishes during the season, top-10's, and the same data we had with the track-specific view. This can at least give you an idea of whether or not the driver is performing well within that year, signaling whether or not we can buy into their data for that week's track.
Again, though, there are flaws to this. If a driver has simply had some bad luck with wrecks, it'll be hard to tell that just by looking at the general overview. Average running position will do a better job of accounting for this than the surface-level stats.
Additionally, track history should come into effect when we're looking at current form. It's possible the past few races in the current season have just been at tracks where the driver struggles. If that's the case, and he or she has been solid at the upcoming track in the past, we may want to take the dive on them even without the benefit of top-tier current form.
Because NASCAR is a complex sport, there will never be one end-all, be-all method for evaluating which drivers we should use in a given week. But by considering track history and current form through the lens of stats like average running position, we can get a bit closer to putting our lineups in position to succeed.