Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Bojangles' Southern 500 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 Darlington, an egg-shaped oval where passing is difficult and action is constant. What do we need to know before filling out lineups for the Bojangles' Southern 500? Let's check it out.
If you're a fan of old-school NASCAR, Sunday night was made for you. Not only will a bunch of drivers be running throwback paint schemes, but the racing doesn't get more classic than it does in Darlington.
Darlington's a 1.366-mile oval that looks like an egg with the track's two turns being wildly different from each other. The racing groove is narrow, making it hard to pass and leading to plenty of incidents. Toss that all together, and it can lead to finishes like this.
The racing here is a delight. And it brings plenty of fun to the DFS realm, too.
With the race being 500 miles, there are 367 laps scheduled. That gives us 36.7 points available for laps led in FanDuel's scoring system, which is a fairly sizable number.
With those 367 laps, it's pretty clear we'll need to chase drivers capable of running out front and adding upside that way. But there may not be multiple drivers who do so Sunday night.
Over the past four races at Darlington, three drivers have led at least half of the laps in their respective race, and all three started on the pole. In only one of the races -- the 2017 version -- did multiple drivers lead more than 60 laps. It's worth noting that this is the only race in this span that had stages (which will also be in play this weekend) and that three drivers topped the 60-lap-led barrier. But overall, a single driver is absolutely capable of dominating in Darlington.
This is going to be a huge factor in our roster-building decisions for this weekend. More on that in the scoring section below, but keep this propensity for domination in mind until then.
But first, let's get back to the difficulty of passing here. If only one driver is going to lead a bunch of laps, we'll need to find drivers capable of making up spots to find upside. That's just not as easy as it may seem.
In last year's Richmond race, the correlation between a driver's starting position and their finishing position was 0.678. That was the fifth-highest mark of any track on the schedule. In other words, drivers tend to finish near where they start.
In that race, the largest place differential for any driver was Ty Dillon, who finished 12 spots better than where he finished. That equates to just six points on FanDuel for place differential, and again, that was the highest of the entire race.
This will require us to deploy a bit of a riskier strategy than we usually would. If a mid-level driver is starting closer to the front, we may need to gamble on them rather than someone in the same tier starting further back. We'll go through which starting positions to target in a second, but just know that your rosters may make you feel a bit uncomfortable this weekend unless things get weird in qualifying.
Even with that being true, punting is still a viable strategy due to both the small-ish size of Darlington and its slightly elevated rate of attrition.
In last year's race, as mentioned, Ty Dillon finished 13th. Chris Buescher was 17th, Michael McDowell was 19th, and Landon Cassill was 21st. All of those drivers would have been cheap for that race had FanDuel been offering contests, and all finished at least 10 spots better than where they started.
If you can get a performance like that out of someone in their pricing range, you'll be sitting pretty. They'll let you get higher-upside -- and higher-floor -- drivers elsewhere, making us feel a bit better about rostering drivers starting toward the front. So while lineups will be tough overall this weekend, we do get that one, minor consolation.
Historic Scoring Trends
So, we need to find one dominant driver and then scramble for our next four slots. With that in mind, which starting spots have historically performed well here?
In order to get a big enough sample size, we're going to look back at the past four Darlington races. But because the Cup series races here just once per year, that means we will have to include two races in which the maximum number of drivers was 43 (compared to the current max of 40). To account for this, any starting position or finishing position higher than 40th has been adjusted to be exactly 40 so as to fit FanDuel's scoring rules.
When we do this, here's how each driver has performed based on their starting position.
Three of the four highest FanDuel scores came from drivers who started on the pole. And the gap between those top four and the rest is huge.
This goes back to what we discussed earlier: one driver is probably going to steal the show from a DFS perspective. In each of these races, the gap between the highest-scoring driver and the driver in second was at least 8.6 FanDuel points, and it was as many as 17.9 points. Not shockingly, all of these drivers led at least 124 laps in their race.
If you can identify which driver is likely to dominate this weekend through a combination of practice times, current form, and a sprinkle of track history, you'll want to build your lineups around them. Any lineup without that driver will be left for dead, so focus on those drivers starting up front and try to predict which one is poised for a big night.
So, that settles one position on our roster. But how do we fill the other four slots?
After the four highest-scoring drivers in our sample, we did get to some drivers who started outside the top 10 and picked up place-differential points. Of the 23 drivers to score at least 75 FanDuel points in our 4-race sample, 11 started outside the top 10.
|Starting Range||Drivers With 75+ FD Points|
|1st to 5th||6|
|6th to 10th||6|
|11th to 15th||3|
|16th to 20th||4|
|21st to 25th||2|
|26th to 30th||2|
|31st to 35th||0|
|36th to 40th||0|
If you up that total to 80 points, then half of the 12 drivers to hit the mark started outside the top 10. So you can still find drivers who will finish better than they started; it's just not quite as easy as it may be other places.
That leads into our next question: how many drivers starting at the front should we target? The answer seems to be just one based on the information above, but there's still a whole lotta lap-led goodness in 367 laps.
The table below shows the starting positions of the five highest-scoring drivers in each of the past four races. In parenthesis is the number of laps that driver led.
|2017||9th (124)||13th (0)||3rd (6)||7th (7)||17th (0)|
|2016||1st (214)||8th (28)||16th (45)||7th (13)||18th (0)|
|2015||1st (196)||13th (15)||6th (57)||26th (0)||4th (29)|
|2014||1st (238)||26th (8)||25th (12)||15th (5)||19th (5)|
Even though there weren't a ton of extra laps led outside of the dominators (only one lineup had multiple drivers who led at least 50 laps), there were still a good number of drivers who started in the top 10. This is actually a blessing.
With this being the case, it's easier to justify using multiple drivers starting up front. This gives us two cracks at identifying the driver who jumps out and leads a ton of laps. Feel free to let out a sigh of relief.
Although a lineup with two drivers starting in the top 10 should likely be our most common build, the 2014 race shows that we don't need to do that for every lineup. There, Kevin Harvick led 238 laps, which robbed all other drivers starting at the front of lap-led upside. That's going to incentivize us to have certain lineups where we ride with just one potential dominator before focusing on those who can pick up spots after the green flag drops.
How often you go with a single-dominator lineup should depend on qualifying. If each of "The Big Three" starts near the front, you'll probably want to gravitate toward having two dominators. But if there are a good number of strong cars starting outside the top 10, feel free to put a heavier emphasis on place differential.
But at the end of the day, the key to DFS this weekend will be identifying which driver jumps out and leads laps on Sunday night. If we do so, we'll have a bit more leeway elsewhere in our lineups. If not, our rosters will be hurting big time, and we can kiss our chances at taking down a tournament goodbye.