Daily Fantasy NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 400 Track Preview
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 Michigan for the FireKeepers Casino 400. It's a wide, two-mile track where passing can be plentiful. Let's take a look at what strategies we should deploy.
Michigan is a wide track where passes can certainly be made. And that's a key thing to keep in mind with how large the track is.
Michigan measures out as a two-mile track, which means that for a 400-mile race, there are only 200 laps. That leaves us with 20 points available for laps led on FanDuel, which cuts into the upside of the dominant drivers. You can't fully disregard laps led, but they'll carry less importance than they will at shorter tracks.
On top of that, because Michigan is so wide, fast cars can make up ground in a hurry. That's especially true on restarts. Check out the start of the summer race here, and watch Ryan Blaney in the red 21 car. He starts the race in 12th but is up to 7th by the exit of the second turn.
That's not to say we should sell out for place-differential points. Between the two races last year, the correlation between the qualifying order and finishing order at Michigan was 0.649, which was seventh-highest out of 23 tracks. But if a good car is starting in the back, you should expect them to make some moves.
The best way to spot those cars is by checking out practice times. The practice rankings actually had a higher correlation to finishing positions last year than qualifying, sitting sixth among all tracks. This has a couple of implications.
First, if a car is fast in practice, they're capable of leading laps even if they're not necessarily starting right at the front. Martin Truex Jr. led 57 laps after starting 13th last year in the summer race, and Kyle Larson won from the 12th spot and led 41 laps in the summer of 2016. It does help to start up front, but it's not a prerequisite for leading laps.
Second, you can pinpoint drivers who will get place-differential points by looking at practice speeds. If they look strong in practice but aren't starting near the front, they'll have the ability to make their way through the pack. There's plenty of value in that as we'll see later on.
This also adds up to mean that any drivers with issues in qualifying are fine plays for the race (a la Kevin Harvick in Charlotte two weeks ago). The closest example to this was actually Harvick in the spring 2016 race when he started 29th and finished 5th, ending up as the second-highest scorer for that week.
If you're looking for similar tracks at which the Cup series has run this year, check out Fontana and Kansas. Both have the tri-oval configuration and provide ample opportunities for passing.
Historic Scoring Trends
Based on the discussion above, you can likely predict what the historic scoring trends will look like. Laps led are up for grabs, but there's plenty of value in place differential.
Here's a breakdown of the FanDuel points scored by starting position at Michigan over the past four races.
As mentioned before, Michigan is pretty similar to what we saw at Kansas. You can put up a big score from deep in the pack as long as your car is up to the task.
Of the 10 highest scores at Michigan in this 4-race sample, 5 have come from drivers starting outside the top 10, and 2 other drivers started 9th and 10th, respectively. Two drivers did start on the pole, so again, there is value in starting up front, but we should be looking for some place-differential points.
The big question is what type of balance we should strike between seeking out laps led and place differential. To see that, it can be helpful to look at the five highest-scoring drivers from each of these four races. That will give us a glimpse at what type of blend we need. Here's that list with the "1" column representing the starting position of the driver who scored the most FanDuel points in that race.
The top-five scorers included two drivers who started in the top five in the 2017 spring and 2016 summer races, but there weren't any in the summer of 2017. This seems to hint that we should not be putting more than two drivers in our lineup who are starting right at the front of the pack.
But more often than not, we are going to want one driver starting near the front who could dominate, and that driver is often the pole sitter. In three of the past four races at Michigan, the driver starting first has led 96 or more laps, and they went on to win twice. This helps formulate a fairly concrete strategy for our lineups.
For each lineup, we should make sure we have one "anchor" near the front of the pack who we think will lead laps. That may not be the pole sitter, but it should likely be someone starting within the first few rows.
After that, we have freedom. We should focus on drivers who will finish well, regardless of where they're starting. If that leads to using two drivers inside the top five, fine. If that leads you to focus on drivers starting more toward the middle of the pack, that can also work. Just find drivers who can pick up some spots and post a quality finish.
As always, though, when you're looking for value plays, you want them starting as deep in the pack as possible. Ty Dillon scored 49.5 points after starting 37th and finishing 20th in last year's spring race. Trevor Bayne was in the same scoring range after starting 27th and finishing 17th. Bayne and Chris Buescher both posted top-six finishes here during last year's races, but expecting such performances from drivers in the sub-$7,000 pricing range seems ambitious more often than not. Any "punt" plays are likely best suited starting around 30th or lower.