Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Consumers Energy 400 Track Preview

With multiple sources of upside available at Michigan, how should we be looking to assemble our NASCAR DFS lineups for the Consumers Energy 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 Michigan for the Consumers Energy 400. It's their second trip to Michigan of the season, so what can we learn from looking at that race and previous stops at the two-mile tri-oval? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

If you get frustrated with watching races where it's impossible to pass, Michigan was made for you.

It's a wide, long track where drivers can run anywhere from the middle all the way to the brim, allowing them to change lines and slide on by opponents. And that is a relief for daily fantasy.

Because passing is easier than it is at other spots, we can rest assured that we'll be able to find place-differential opportunities somewhere. As long as we find a solid driver starting outside of the front part of the field, we'll be able to plug them in liberally, knowing they can use the expansive grooves to wiggle their way forward.

And -- unlike this past Sunday at Watkins Glen -- we'll have a second source of upside, as well. The cars are scheduled to run 200 laps on Sunday, leaving 20 FanDuel points available for laps led. That's not as many as we'll have at shorter tracks, but it's a couple leaps ahead of the 90 laps last week.

Even with the easier passing conditions, drivers can still dominate here, too. In the past 5 Michigan races, 5 drivers have led 50 or more laps, and 9 have led 40 or more. And almost all of them have started at the front.

Of those 9 drivers who have topped the 40-laps-led barrier, 3 started on the pole, and 7 started 4th or higher. That's a decent little bump in scoring, and we definitely can't ignore it when filling out lineups.

Based on this, it does seem as if our process for this week should be pretty clear. First, we want to identify the driver or drivers starting at the front who will lead laps. Then we want to dip down and find those who will net us upside via place-differential points. We'll see whether that assumption is true by looking back at past races in just a hot second.

But first, it's important to know which tracks we can look at when trying to decide who will run well this weekend. The obvious one is the June Michigan race, but beyond that, Fontana is the best corollary. It's the only other two-mile track on the schedule, and it also has a tri-oval.

Additionally, Kansas is basically a smaller version of Michigan, checking in at 1.5 miles in length. But because the banking there is similar to Michigan, we can also look there to decipher who should run well this weekend. Between Michigan, Kansas, and Fontana, we've got three similar races on the schedule where we can conduct research to see who figures to contend on Sunday.

Even more than that, though, we should put stock in practice times. The correlation between a driver's practice ranking in the first practice and his average running position in the race for this June's Michigan race was the second-highest of any practice the entire year. Because the track is so large, practice speeds tell us more than they will at other tracks, and we should buy into what they're telling us.

Now that we know what tools we can use to identify the best drivers of the weekend, let's figure out where we would ideally want them to start. To do so, we'll look at the past five races to try to spot trends in FanDuel scoring. Does the data back up the narrative discussed at the top? Let's check it out.

Historic Scoring Trends

Because this year's spring race was shortened by rain, the cars ran just 133 of the scheduled 200 laps. If we were to look at the FanDuel points they actually scored, it would push down the impact of this race when looking back at previous trends. As such, if the driver ran the full 133 laps, that number was adjusted up to be 200 (giving them 20 points for laps completed). If they ran 132, they were given credit for 199 laps. The two drivers who bowed out early were credited for the number of laps they actually ran.

Once we make these adjustments, here's the distribution of points scored at the past five Michigan races based on the driver's starting position.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Michigan, 2016 to 2018

The two highest point totals in our five-race sample came from drivers who started on the pole. But after that, each of the next eight best scores came from drivers who started ninth or lower. That's in line with the narrative we discussed in the opening section.

In total, there have been 21 drivers who have scored at least 60 FanDuel points in our 5-race sample. Here's the starting range for those 21 drivers.

Starting PositionDrivers With 60+ FD Points
1st to 5th5
6th to 10th6
11th to 15th5
16th to 20th2
21st to 25th2
26th to 30th1
31st to 35th0
36th to 40th0

Anecdotally, it does make sense that drivers starting 11th to 15th would measure out well here. It means their cars were fast enough to qualify relatively well, but they still had some room to pick up place-differential points. Three of the top five scorers in our five-race sample started in this range, and two of them won the race.

This, again, will back up what we discussed above. We likely want to get the drivers who will lead laps first and then dip backward to find the place-differential candidates. Next, we need to figure out the proper balance of the two.

As mentioned, 9 drivers in the past 5 Michigan races have led at least 40 laps, meaning it's possible we would need to jam in two lap leaders for each tournament lineup. To check whether that's true, the chart below shows the starting positions of the five highest-scoring drivers for each of the past five races. The "1st" column shows the starting spot of the driver who scored the most FanDuel points in that race and so on.

2018 Spring12th4th1st15th24th
2017 Summer13th25th9th21st20th
2017 Spring1st10th7th21st2nd
2016 Summer12th18th5th4th7th
2016 Spring1st29th10th15th7th

Three of the races featured a pair of a drivers who started in the top five. The other two races were the two in our stretch in which a single driver led more than half of the laps.

The only race for which we have FanDuel salaries was the 2018 spring race. In that one, the top five scorers actually had a combined salary of exactly $50,000, which is the salary cap on FanDuel, meaning that was the perfect lineup for the race. It does seem to provide the ideal template for constructing a lineup.

That was also the race shortened by rain, which we do need to consider because it cut short opportunities for laps led. But the 4th- and 1st-place starters -- Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch -- both led 40-plus laps. Clint Bowyer won the race from 12th, picking up some place-differential points. And the other two, cheaper drivers logged top-10 finishes after starting a bit deeper in the pack. If qualifying affords us the opportunity to build similar lineups this week, we should be trying to do so.

But, not every lineup should have two drivers starting at the front. As we saw in two of the races above, we can have a single driver dominate the race. If that happens, our second high-starting driver will have his laps led capped, limiting the upside he possesses. As such, we should have some lineups where we have just one driver starting at the front before focusing on picking up place-differential points, and this should likely be the go-to strategy in cash games, as well.

The other scenario in which we'd want to have just one driver starting toward the front is if a bunch of fast cars struggle in qualifying. This is not an impound race, meaning there shouldn't be the same inspection issues we've seen at the past two races. But it's still possible that this could happen. If we do have a handful of fast cars starting at the back, then we can likely stick to one driver who is likely to lead laps before gobbling up all the place-differential points that we can.

Before we close up shop, we should circle back to discuss the lower left-hand portion of the original graph of the FanDuel points by starting position. There aren't as many orange dots there as we'll see at most tracks -- signifying drivers who started at the front and had tremendously poor fantasy-point outputs -- and that means quite a bit for DFS.

The reason that quadrant is largely vacant is that the attrition rate at Michigan is relatively low. Of 195 drivers to run in our 5-race sample, 170 have finished within 5 laps of the leaders. In other words, you don't get many wrecks here.

This has two implications. First, it means we can be a bit more aggressive in our exposure levels than we were last week at Watkins Glen if we're multi-entering in tournaments. The odds that a fast driver completely tanks and ruins our squad are lower, so we can feel safer about flooding the elite plays into our lineups.

Second, it means that slower cars will be less viable than they are elsewhere. Drivers without great equipment can post a top-20 finish at some tracks simply by keeping their noses clean and finishing the race, leapfrogging other drivers who get into trouble. Here, there aren't likely to be many crashes to eliminate other drivers, putting a lid on the upside these lower-level cars possess.

As such, we likely want to avoid punting if at all possible. The cheapest driver to make the spring race's perfect lineup was Paul Menard at $7,900. The best finish by a driver priced below $7,000 was Ty Dillon at $6,500 with a 21st-place run. That's not going to do a ton for you.

If a driver in the Chris Buescher or Michael McDowell mold starts at the very back of the pack and shows respectable speed in practice, we can maybe make an exception here. But for the most part, we'll want to keep our exposure quarantined to drivers priced above $7,000 who are capable of finishing in the top 15.