Daily Fantasy NASCAR: South Point 400 Track Preview

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kicking off in Las Vegas, what do we need to know about the track before filling out NASCAR DFS lineups for the South Point 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 to Las Vegas for the first race of the playoffs. This is also the second trip to Las Vegas for the Cup series this year, the first time the track has had a pair of dates in a single season. What can we take away from the early-season race as we build our daily fantasy NASCAR lineups for the South Point 400? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

The big story entering Las Vegas will be the 16-driver playoffs, which start this weekend. Even though only 16 drivers will be eligible to win the championship, the field will still have a maximum of 40 drivers. So you don't need to account for any changes there.

But those 16 remaining drivers now have three races before the next cutoff when the field is trimmed to just 12 drivers. That means -- unless they're a driver like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Martin Truex Jr. with mountains of playoff points stored up thanks to regular-season wins -- we're going to get some desperation out of these cats.

Going back to last year, in the first round of the playoffs (in Chicago instead of Las Vegas), drivers in the playoffs all finished 25th or better, and only one driver who wasn't in the playoffs finished in the top 10. That driver was Joey Logano, who missed the playoffs only because he had a win disallowed earlier in the year.

So, yes, it's fair to view these championship-eligible drivers a bit more favorably than we do the others in the field. But we would be doing that, anyway, because if they qualified for the playoffs, their car is likely pretty good to begin with (and vice versa). It's smart to factor this in, but you likely won't need to do too much adjusting until we've gotten deeper into the running.

As for Las Vegas itself, there are 267 laps scheduled for the race, leaving us 26.7 points for laps led on FanDuel. That's a fairly middling number. But laps led come into focus heavily when you see their allocation in recent races.

Over the past 4 Las Vegas races, 3 drivers have led at least 140 laps in a single race, including Kevin Harvick's 214 earlier this year. In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. led 150 laps, and Brad Keselowski led 89. There aren't a ton of laps, but they do tend to be concentrated between one or two drivers.

Normally, we'd expect all of those laps led to come from drivers starting at the front, and for the most part, that is true. But Harvick in 2015 led 142 laps after starting 18th, and Jimmie Johnson led 76 laps from the 11th spot in 2016. Las Vegas isn't one of the series' most difficult places to pass, so if you've got a fast enough car, you can scoot through the pack in a hurry.

Although the best cars are able to make these passes, that's not to say that we should expect a ton of drivers to start in the back and push for a win. Las Vegas is fast enough (Ryan Blaney won the pole this spring at an average speed of 191.5 miles per hour) where the strongest cars should be able to separate from the "also-rans" in qualifying. The table below shows where the cars that have finished in the top 10 and top 5 over the past four Las Vegas races have started.

Starting Position Top 10s Top 5s
1st to 5th 16 11
6th to 10th 10 3
11th to 15th 8 3
16th to 20th 3 2
21st to 25th 2 1
26th to 30th 1 0
31st to 35th 0 0
36th to 40th 0 0

We could absolutely get an exception here if qualifying gets a little wacky. But it's fair to assume that most of our place-differential points are going to come from drivers starting between 11th and 20th, if we get them at all.

Overall, it seems like Las Vegas is a place where we'd want to get our driver or drivers up front who could dominate before peppering that second tier of drivers, searching for some who will finish better than they start. Let's check that now, though, by looking back at historic scoring trends at the track.

Historic Scoring Trends

Because our four-race sample dips back to 2015 -- before fields were trimmed to a max of 40 drivers from 43 -- any driver who started or finished worse than 40th in that race has had their position adjusted to be exactly 40th so as to fit with FanDuel's scoring rules.

Once we make that slight adjustment, here's a look at the FanDuel-point output by each driver in this four-race sample based on where they started the race.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Las Vegas, 2015 to 2018

We'll get to the overall implications in a second, but first, just focus on those dots toward the top of the graph. There's a big gap between them and the rest, and that matters a lot.

Those top three point totals were 92.4, 91.6, and 85.2 FanDuel points. No other driver topped 77 in our four-race sample. That's a significant gap.

The 2016 race was the only one that didn't have a massive gap between the highest scorer and the rest of the pack. As mentioned before, that was also the one race in our sample in which no driver led at least 140 laps. That's not a coincidence.

There's a good chance that there will be one driver who absolutely mops up on Sunday, and if we don't have them on our rosters, we're going to be begging for mercy. This will be a driver who leads a ton of laps, meaning they're more likely to start at the front, but that's not a lock if they have a car as fast as Harvick's was in 2015.

We have to do whatever we can to identify who that driver will be on Sunday. One way to do so will be via practice times. There will be three practices this weekend -- two of which will come after qualifying -- and those will let us know which drivers have cars capable of dominating the race. That's one route for identifying our stud.

The other would be via current form. Specifically, we want to see how they've performed on 1.5-mile tracks this year (the same length as Las Vegas). The Racing Reference fantasy tool will allow you to do this by setting the track length to 1.5 miles and looking at the past seven races at such tracks (as the Cup series has had seven races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2018). Combining this with practice times should tell us who the possible dominators are for the weekend. Then we just have to pick the right one.

After we've picked our runaway candidate, how do we fill the other four slots on our roster? Let's check that out next.

In our four-race sample, 21 drivers have scored at least 65 FanDuel points. Here's where those 21 drivers started the race.

Starting Position Drivers With 65+ FD Points
1st to 5th 7
6th to 10th 3
11th to 15th 5
16th to 20th 3
21st to 25th 2
26th to 30th 1
31st to 35th 0
36th to 40th 0

As mentioned at the beginning, qualifying here does tend to separate the elites from the rest. That can make finding drivers who will snag place-differential points a difficult task.

So, how do we strike the balance between finding drivers who will finish well and finding those with enough upside to help us compete in tournaments? It's certainly not easy. But we can look back at the highest-scoring drivers in these races to get a bit of a template.

The table below shows the starting position of the five highest-scoring drivers based on FanDuel's scoring system over the past four races at Las Vegas. The "1st" column shows the starting position of the driver who scored the most FanDuel points in that race and so forth.

Race 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
2018 2nd 13th 29th 5th 10th
2017 2nd 1st 12th 5th 15th
2016 23rd 11th 2nd 4th 14th
2015 18th 8th 19th 22nd 7th

In each of these races, at least two drivers starting in the top 10 were among the five highest-scoring drivers. In three of them, it was two drivers who started in the top five who made the cut.

Even though Las Vegas and Darlington are wildly different tracks (with far different lap numbers), we're going to have similar strategies here to what we had two weeks ago. In Darlington, we wanted to pick two drivers near the front of the pack who had the ability to lead a ton of laps. After that, we'd pluck drivers starting 10th to 19th who could finish well and pick up some place-differential points along the way.

This should be a big relief. Because we can use two drivers starting up front, we're effectively giving ourselves two swings at identifying the driver who will jump out front and dominate. If you're deciding between two drivers, just plug both in and hope the one who doesn't dominate can at least pump out some solid finishing points.

Clearly, all of this would change if a strong driver were to qualify in the back. If Kyle Busch scrapes the wall in qualifying and starts 25th, he's going to be a tremendous play because passing here is not overly difficult. That just doesn't happen very often, so we shouldn't assume this will be the case. We should take advantage if it is presented to us, though.

Finally, as with other tracks where place-differential points are hard to find, we'll want to try to avoid punting this week if at all possible. There were just five cars that failed to finish the race in the spring, meaning that the cars that tend to run toward the back don't figure to get the big boost from calamity that they may get elsewhere. If you need to pay down in order to jam in another stud, then it is an option you have, but it's likely best to stick to the tier of drivers at $7,000 or higher when you can manage it.