Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Coke Zero Sugar 400 Track Preview

At Daytona, you can win from pretty much anywhere in the pack. What does this mean for our strategies in NASCAR DFS for the Coke Zero Sugar 400?

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 back to Daytona for the Coke Zero Sugar 400. This is the circuit's second trip to Daytona this year, and the first produced a thriller of a finish. What can we expect this Saturday night from a DFS perspective? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

For the first time this year, the Cup series is heading back to a track for the second time during the 2018 season. They'll celebrate Independence Day weekend in style by returning to the World Center of Racing -- Daytona -- for the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

For those of you who don't follow the sport closely, Daytona is one of two tracks at which the cars use restrictor plates on the engines to slow them down (with Talladega being the other). This leads to racing in giant packs throughout the entire race, and that can often end in calamity.

While the best drivers do still tend to perform well at this track, the style of racing lends itself to extra randomness and some wild results.

If you need evidence of this randomness, you need not look further than last year's summer Daytona race. There, each of this year's Big Three drivers -- Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. -- wrecked and finished 20th or worse. No matter how good of a driver you are, you can still get caught up in trouble.

The other implication of restrictor-plate racing is that it's hard for a driver to jump out and dominate a single race. In the past 5 races at Daytona, only 3 times has a driver led more than 50 laps (though all 3 led at least 95). There are 160 laps in the race, giving us 16 points available for laps led, per FanDuel's scoring rules. That's not a whole lot, and with how hard they can be to pinpoint, it leaves us with one predictable source of upside: place differential.

The pack racing increases randomness, which means that drivers who start in the back won't necessarily finish there. In the past five races at Daytona, here's where the drivers who finished in the top 10 have started the race.

Starting Position Percentage of Top-10 Finishers
1st through 10th 32.0%
11th through 20th 28.0%
21st through 30th 28.0%
31st through 40th 12.0%

Your odds of finishing in the top 10 are almost just as good if you start in the top 10 as they are if you start 21st through 30th. The overall correlation between starting and finishing position in this five-race sample is 0.138, which is bordering on negligible. You need to find place-differential points here in order to build a successful roster.

This should make our strategies for daily fantasy fairly obvious. You want drivers who will start in the back and finish in the front. But let's take a look at historic scoring trends here to see if we can glean any additional information.

Historic Scoring Trends

One thing we have to be careful with in looking at historic scoring trends is that the two Daytona races are not equal. While there are 200 laps in the February running, there are just 160 in the summer. That's four additional FanDuel points for the drivers who run all of the laps during the Daytona 500, which will skew things. So, we'll look at the two together in certain parts and then separate them in others.

Let's start things off here just by grouping each of the past five races together to show the FanDuel points scored by starting position.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Daytona, 2016 to 2018

And here's that same graph, looking exclusively at the two July races in this span.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position, 2016 and 2017 July Daytona Races

The races are different, but the overall takeaways are similar. The trendline in each graph is almost completely flat, and you can get upside from anywhere.

At almost every other track on the schedule, the drivers starting in the front will average more points than those starting in the back. The trendline would be sloping downward. Here, that's not happening.

In the past two July races, there have been 9 drivers who have scored at least 60 FanDuel points. Only two of them started in the top 10, and both of those drivers won the race. If you're not winning, you're not putting up a big point total by starting in the front.

This is true when we lower the threshold to just 50 FanDuel points, as well. There were 25 drivers who scored at least 50 FanDuel points in this two-race sample, and not many of them started up front.

Starting Position Drivers to Score 50+ FD Points
1st to 5th 3
6th to 10th 1
11th to 15th 3
16th to 20th 2
21st to 25th 3
26th to 30th 5
31st to 35th 5
36th to 40th 3

Sixteen of the 25 drivers started in the bottom half of the pack. Only 4 of 25 drivers started in the top 10. At Daytona, you want to stack the back.

Not only do drivers starting in the back of the pack have higher upside because of the place-differential points available to them, but they also have a higher floor. If they crash, they're not going to put a major dent in your scoring with negative place-differential points, which can always happen for someone starting toward the front. We need to find drivers starting in the back no matter what.

With this in mind, what's the proper balance between drivers up front and those in the back? In cash games, you want to just load up on the drivers starting 21st or lower. But you have a little extra wiggle room in tournaments.

Below is a look at the starting positions of the five highest-scoring drivers at each of the past five Daytona races. The "1st" column notes the starting position of the driver who scored the most FanDuel points in that race and so on. Essentially, if we could have crafted a perfect lineup without the limits of a salary cap, here's where our ideal drivers would have started.

Race 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
2018 February 14 21 3 37 7
2017 July 24 30 6 23 32
2017 February 36 38 33 8 26
2016 July 5 37 31 13 3
2016 February 11 28 38 27 4

Even though drivers in the back are abundant here, each lineup does include at least one driver who started in the top 10. We need to be aware of that.

In total, there were seven drivers who started in the top 10 and finished in the ideal lineup. Three of them won the race, three others were in the top three, and the fourth driver finished seventh but led 118 laps. This gives us a good model on which to build our tournament lineups.

When you're building a tournament lineup, it's okay to completely forgo the top end of the starting order. Your lineup will have a higher floor as a result, and that can sometimes win tournaments or at least get you a solid cash.

But in a good chunk of them, you're going to want what we'll call an "anchor." The anchor is one driver starting somewhere near the front who you think will either win the race or come very close. You can risk it and go with two anchors (the lineups above show that has worked in the past), but then you will also be putting a cap on your roster's upside due to a lack of potential place-differential points.

In selecting this anchor, though, you must be careful. One issue can send that driver to the back of the pack, and that will kill a lineup. You don't want that to happen if you nail the other four drivers on that team.

What this means is that if you're filling out multiple tournament rosters, you need to diversify here. Although you can get decent exposure to the safer drivers starting in the back, you should be trying to mix and match with your anchor, hoping to land on the right selection. That way, if things go poorly for that driver, you're not sinking all of your lineups.

It's also important to note that you likely will not need to use up all of your salary cap at this track. Because of the randomness, pretty much anybody has a shot to log a top-10 finish. In this year's Daytona 500 alone, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, David Gilliland, Michael McDowell, and Justin Marks all finished 14th or better, and none of those drivers will cost you much of anything (not all of them are even still employed by their previous teams). Leaving money on the table will help your lineup be different from others, and you're not going to put a cap on that lineup's potential.

It's definitely a bit frightening to put trust in drivers starting in the back, and your lineups will look ugly once the race starts. But the anecdotes and the data align here to say that it's the correct strategy, and it's one that could put your lineups where they need to be when it matters most.