Daily Fantasy NASCAR: GoBowling at the Glen 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 Watkins Glen for the GoBowling at the Glen, the second road-course race of the season. What types of strategies should we be looking to deploy in daily fantasy NASCAR? Let's check it out.
Watkins Glen is a road course, and -- in theory -- that should make it similar to Sonoma, where the Cup series was at in June. But the two tracks are wildly different.
The first difference is that Watkins Glen is a longer course, checking in at 2.45 miles while Sonoma is 1.99 miles. Partially as a result, this race is only 90 laps long, the shortest on the schedule, checking in beneath Sonoma by 20 laps.
This means that on FanDuel, there are just nine points available for laps led. That's one of our two sources for upside, and there's not much juice to squeeze in this case.
Second, Watkins Glen is a much faster track. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole here in 2017 at a speed of 126.925 miles per hour, 30 miles per hour faster than Kevin Harvick's pole speed of 95.295 at Sonoma earlier in the year.
As a result, drivers who excel at Sonoma will not necessarily excel in Watkins Glen, and vice versa. You absolutely can look at their numbers elsewhere as a guide, but a driver's marks at this specific track will always be the most relevant track-related data for road courses.
Let's go back to the discussion around laps. Although there are 90 laps total, it's not likely any driver will come anywhere close to leading all of those.
Road courses -- especially with stage racing -- are places where pit strategies will differ wildly. As a result, in the past four races at Watkins Glen, no driver has led more than 30 laps in a single race. Truex largely dominated last year's running -- the first including stages -- and yet he still led just 24 laps, amounting to 2.4 additional points on FanDuel. You're not getting upside in this department.
Instead, you generate upside by finding drivers who will finish better than they start and who will log a top-10 finish. Finishing points will represent the vast majority of the points scored in the race, making it crucial that our drivers have the ability to run well the entire day.
The question is where we want these drivers to start in order to generate the best combination of place-differential and finishing points. To do that, let's look back at past races at Watkins Glen to see what types of starting positions have historically been the most fruitful.
Historic Scoring Trends
In order to get a big enough sample, we're going to check out the past four races at Watkins Glen. However, this does include the 2014 and 2015 runnings, before NASCAR cut the maximum field size to 40 cars. As such, any drivers who started or finished worse than 40th have had their positions adjusted to be exactly 40th in order to adhere to FanDuel's scoring rules.
In our sample of 4 races, there have been 17 drivers who have scored at least 50 FanDuel points (roughly 4 per race); 10 of them started outside the top 10, and 4 of them started outside the top 20.
|Starting Position||Drivers With 50+ FD Points|
|1st to 5th||3|
|6th to 10th||4|
|11th to 15th||2|
|16th to 20th||4|
|21st to 25th||1|
|26th to 30th||2|
|31st to 35th||1|
|36th to 40th||0|
If we lower the bar to catch the 30 drivers who scored at least 45 FanDuel points, 20 of them started outside the top 10. If you can find a driver who is poised for place-differential points, you want them on your roster.
This exercise doesn't properly capture the highest-upside performances we've had in this span, so the chart below shows the FanDuel-point output of each driver in this four-race sample based on where they started.
That highest dot was Joey Logano in 2015 when he won after starting 16th. The next four highest point totals came from drivers starting 6th, 26th, 6th, and 15th. So if you have a fast car, you can post a high point total from pretty much anywhere in the field, including near the front.
But as you can see in the lower left-hand corner of that chart, you can also get punched in the throat by drivers starting up front. In that race Logano won, Tony Stewart -- known for his skill on road courses -- started third and finished dead last. It doesn't matter how good your car is. The ills of a road course can still jump up to bite you.
This becomes evident when you look at the average scores of drivers based on their starting spot. At most tracks, this will be a fruitless exercise because it will fail to capture the pull of the highest-upside days. But when there's a lack of separation between the highest scores -- as we see in Watkins Glen -- it can help us identify where the safest drivers will start the race.
|Starting Position||Average FD Points|
|1st to 5th||30.94|
|6th to 10th||31.66|
|11th to 15th||34.36|
|16th to 20th||30.90|
|21st to 25th||30.50|
|26th to 30th||26.07|
|31st to 35th||26.97|
|36th to 40th||22.29|
Drivers starting 11th through 15th have a higher floor than those in the top 5 because if things go awry, their place-differential scores will not be as negative as those up front. They also have a higher ceiling than those top-five cars due to their ability to generate place-differential points should they win. This is the range we want to pepper in cash games, and it's alluring for tournaments, as well.
You'll note on the table and the chart above that the drivers starting 26th on back tend to score poorly at this track. That doesn't mean you can't use a driver starting there.
More often than not, quality cars are going to qualify well for a race, especially at a faster place like Watkins Glen. This means that the cars starting in the back are starting there for a reason.
But there will be exceptions. Drivers can miss out on qualifying due to issues with inspection, or they can slip up in qualifying and miss the second round. If this happens, a fast car could be starting in the back, primed to make up spots once the green flag drops.
And if that does happen, they can post a big point total even without a top-five finish. In 2016, Trevor Bayne started 32nd and worked his way forward for a 9th-place finish. That netted him 52.5 FanDuel points, the 10th-highest total in our 4-race sample. If it were a driver in a tier above Bayne who could finish in the top five, their upside would be bonkers.
Because of this -- and everything above -- our mindset for this weekend should be similar to last week in Pocono: take place-differential points where you can get them. If a quality driver is starting in the middle of the pack or deeper, you're going to want solid exposure to them. You never want to go all-in because road courses are high in variance, but they will objectively be a tremendous play.
But it's also possible that we don't get many chances for this if all the best cars qualify well. Remember, most of the points we score this weekend will come via finishing positions, and we don't want to use drivers who won't finish well just because they're starting poorly. It's possible we could roster zero drivers starting outside the top 20 if qualifying pushes us that direction.
In that sense, this week is similar to Pocono. But there's also one major deviation.
Prior to that race, the line of thought was that we shouldn't use "punt" drivers because they would lack the upside necessary to win a tournament. Although we still shouldn't use drivers who who are unable to finish well, that doesn't mean we can't punt.
Some drivers in that super low-priced range may actually be able to push for a top-10 finish here. Chris Buescher was 12th in Sonoma this year after posting an 11th-place finish in Watkins Glen last year. Michael McDowell is also an accomplished road racer who finished in the top 15 at both tracks last year. As long as the driver does well at these types of tracks, they can be worthy of a roster spot, regardless of price.
The final obstacle to tackle is how many drivers starting at the front we should be willing to roster for our tournament teams. We want to stick closer to the 11th- through 25th-place range for the most part in cash, but what about tournaments, where we can take on more risk?
To get a glimpse at that, we can look at the top-five scorers for each of the past four races at Watkins Glen to see how many top-end starters those "optimal" lineups had. The "1st" column represents the starting position of the driver who had the most FanDuel points in that year's race.
Each race has had at least 2 drivers who started inside the top 10 finish among the top 5 scorers. This doesn't mean that you have to use two of these drivers in your lineup, but it does mean that you can as long as the rest of your roster has some serious place-differential upside.
But again, the most important thing is to remember to take what qualifying gives you. If we've got five good cars starting outside the top 10, take full advantage and shovel them into your lineups. As long as they have the ability to finish well, those drivers will always have the highest upside on the board.