Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Gander Outdoors 400 Track Preview

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Pocono for the Gander Outdoors 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our 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 back to Pocono for its second race there in the past two months. We gained extra information, though, from the June race that we can now apply to our lineups on Sunday. What do we need to know before filling out rosters for the Gander Outdoors 400? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

If it feels like the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was just in Pocono, your mind isn't playing tricks on you. They were there back on June 3rd for the first race here this year, and they'll close up the season schedule at the track this weekend. And plenty of the lessons learned the first time around are applicable again this weekend.

For those of you who don't remember, Pocono is a wide, triangle-shaped track where passing is difficult and there aren't a ton of laps to be led. The race is just 160 laps, giving us 16 points available for laps led on FanDuel. This makes our decisions for DFS a bit hairy.

Our two best sources for upside on FanDuel are place-differential points and laps led. But both of those can be a bit hard to come by here.

If we look back at the past 5 races at Pocono (each race since the field was trimmed to a maximum of 40 cars), the most laps a driver has led in a single race is 100 by Kyle Busch in last year's spring race. Only 4 drivers have led more than 50 laps, and only 10 have led more than 20. You can get a dominant performance, but it's likely going to be one driver per race at most.

Normally when this is the case, we'll want to get one driver who will lead laps and push for a win, and then load up on drivers starting deeper in the pack. But finding drivers who start in the back and will finish up front is also pretty tough.

With this 5-race sample, we've got 50 total drivers who have logged a top-10 finish in this span. Here's where those 50 drivers have started the race.

Starting RangeTop-10 Finishers
1st to 5th19
6th to 10th11
11th to 15th13
16th to 20th3
21st to 25th2
26th to 30th1
31st to 35th1
36th to 40th0

This is going to be true -- to an extent -- at every track because better cars tend to qualify well. But to see just 6 drivers starting outside the top 15 log top-10 finishes in a sample of 5 races is astounding.

Combining this with the lack of laps available to lead leaves us at an impasse. How can we find upside for DFS? Let's take a deeper dive into scoring trends here to see what we can find out.

Historic Scoring Trends

Let's stick with this five-race sample we were talking about before to see what we can learn as it pertains to searching for that ever-important upside.

The chart below shows the FanDuel points for each driver in this five-race sample based on where they started the race. By checking this out, we can see where high-upside days tend to originate.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Pocono, 2016 to 2018

As mentioned before, only 6 drivers have started outside the top 15 and logged a top-10 finish over the past 5 Pocono races. But every single one of those drivers who accomplished the feat scored at least 57.5 FanDuel points, accounting for 6 of the top 17 scores in this span.

This means that when drivers do get place-differential points and finish in the top 10, they're going to be one of the better fantasy assets of the week. It's just finding drivers who are capable of this that presents us with issues.

With that said, it's certainly not impossible. Let's use this year's spring race as an example.

In that one, Aric Almirola had an issue in qualifying and started the race in 34th. But he was fifth in final practice and had good current form entering the event. You knew his car was stronger than his starting position.

Almirola showed that strength during the race, working his way forward for a seventh-place finish. His 63.5 FanDuel points for that race are the 6th-most in our 5-race sample.

If we zoom out to include all drivers starting outside the top 10, they have generated 7 of the top 11 FanDuel outputs in these 5 races. The 4 drivers who started in the top 10 and were within those top 11 scores all won the race.

This provides a pretty clear thought process on what we should do as it pertains to place-differential points. If they're available to us, we should take them.

With the lack of points available for laps led, drivers starting in the back are still going to have the highest upside in the group. We just have to make sure they have cars good enough to work their way through the pack and post a quality finish.

Outside of looking at current form and track history, practice will be a major crutch in determining that. The correlation between a driver's rank in the second practice and their average running position in the spring race was 0.888, the second-highest mark of any practice this year. If a driver shows more speed in practice than he did in qualifying, he's likely going to provide some solid place-differential points during the race. Take advantage of the place-differential points that are presented to you.

But based on history, there won't be a ton of these quality drivers starting deeper in the pack. So what will our rosters realistically look like?

Because we actually had FanDuel salaries for the spring race, we can look at the perfect lineup from that race to see what the ideal roster build was.

When doing this, here's the best lineup you could have built based on FanDuel's $50,000 salary cap.

DriverFanDuel SalaryFanDuel PointsFinishStart
Martin Truex Jr.$11,20063.614
Aric Almirola$9,10063.5734
Kyle Larson$10,90060.9213
Brad Keselowski$11,00059.0517
Paul Menard$7,60050.51120

Martin Truex Jr. was the only driver to crack the perfect lineup without finishing at least nine spots higher than he started, and he was the winner of the race. Again, this is exactly what we should expect anecdotally without many laps available to be led.

The question here becomes how many lap leaders we should be trying to plug into each lineup. These are the drivers who are starting up front but may be able to generate upside via leading laps. It was just one in the spring race, but that doesn't mean we should expect that to happen each time.

Because we don't have FanDuel salaries from before April of 2018, we'll change what we're looking for here and just view the five highest-scoring drivers in each of the past five races and see where they started. That data is in the table below with the "1st" column representing the starting position of the driver who scored the most FanDuel points in that race. In parenthesis after that is the number of laps that driver led.

2018 Spring4th (31)34th (0)13th (0)2nd (89)17th (10)
2017 Summer1st (74)6th (0)2nd (31)11th (6)4th (18)
2017 Spring15th (20)4th (10)12th (0)25th (0)1st (100)
2016 Summer22nd (12)30th (0)17th (7)7th (8)11th (37)
2016 Spring9th (32)13th (51)8th (4)11th (0)1st (0)

Three of these races had multiple drivers who led at least 30 laps wind up among the 5 highest scorers. One of the exceptions was a rain-shortened race, and the other was largely dominated by Kyle Busch.

This means we should likely have -- at most -- two drivers who need to lead laps in order to generate upside. The 2017 summer race had three drivers who started in the top five finish among the top-five scorers, but based on the other four races in the sample, that seems to be a bit of an outlier.

For an example here, let's say that Truex, Busch, and Kevin Harvick all start in the top five. We can have lineups in which we use two of them. But when we do so, we have to make sure that the rest of our lineup can snag place-differential points, likely starting somewhere between 11th and 25th. We should also have lineups in which we use only one of those drivers.

While on the subject of high-priced drivers, we should also briefly return to the original chart above, showing the FanDuel points by starting position. You'll notice that the scoring is flatter there than what we see at other tracks. The highest output in our 5-race sample is 68.5 FanDuel points, but 13 other drivers have been within 10 points of that mark. This should also influence our lineups.

When we have flat scoring structures like this, it makes punting a far less viable strategy. The falloff in scoring occurs after drivers starting around 25th or so, which is generally where the field-fillers (and salary-savers) tend to start. If you have one of those drivers on your roster, and they fail to notch a top-15 finish, you're not going to have enough upside elsewhere to make up the ground you have lost to the pack.

As such, we should be looking to avoid most drivers priced below $7,000 for this week. That's the tipping point where the quality of the equipment begins to fall off. If you think a driver in that price range has a chance to finish well -- Chris Buescher did win here in that 2016 rain-shortened race -- then you can go for it. But more often than not, this will not be the case. You're going to want to focus solely on drivers who can realistically finish in the top 15.

The overall takeaway here is to take what qualifying gives you. If some truly quality cars start in the back and can still log a good finish, take advantage. Place-differential points will always provide the most upside here with the lack of laps, and we can't ignore them when they're available.

But if qualifying goes according to plan, and the cars in the back seem likely to stay there, don't force it. This is a recipe for some dud lineups and will wipe out the lineups in which you're able to nail the guy who leads a bunch of laps.

Basically, you just need to be flexible. We do have a plan in place, but that plan is a bit less rigid than we normally have. So go with the flow, find cars that are fast in practice, and accept whatever the weekend throws your way.