Daily Fantasy NASCAR: 500 Track Preview

Talladega is a wild beast of a track that can generate wonkiness both in the real world and in daily fantasy. What do we need to know before filling out DFS lineups for the 500?

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 continuing the second round of the playoffs in Talladega, where the speeds will be high, and the tempers will be cooking. What strategies do we need to know before filling out lineups for the 500 in Talladega? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Playoff racing at a restrictor-plate track. It doesn't get much better than that.

This is the second race in the second round, meaning Talladega doesn't represent a cutoff race as it has in years past. But after several round-of-eight hopefuls had trouble in Dover, don't expect this one to be a tame affair.

Races at Talladega are wild for daily fantasy, too, because they represent such a strange deviation from how we normally play. Last week in Dover, we wanted to soak up laps led to generate upside. This week, there aren't many laps to lead, and our focus will revolve entirely around place differential.

Sunday's race is 500 miles and 188 laps long. That gives us 18.8 FanDuel points available for laps led. While that would be a decent number if it all went to one person, history tells us that this isn't likely.

There have been five races at Talladega since the fields were trimmed to 40 drivers at the start of 2016. In those 5 races, only 3 drivers have led more than 50 laps in a single race. The maximum number of laps led in this time is 90 from Brad Keselowski back in 2016, but he wound up finishing 38th in that one. Given the pack racing that restrictor-plate racing breeds, this makes sense anecdotally. Drivers can't separate from the field, making lead changes abundant and preventing drivers from dominating a race. And even when they do, there's no guarantee they'll finish up front.

This alone would lead us toward targeting drivers starting further back in order to get upside via place-differential points. The ease of passing at these tracks only amplifies that.

The clip below is the end of this year's spring race in Talladega. Watch Chase Elliott's No. 9 car down the stretch.

When they entered the front stretch, Elliott was in fifth. By the start/finish line, he was in third. That's just one straightaway at the end of the race. If you can pass two drivers in that short amount of time, imagine what you can do over 500 miles.

To further illustrate this, here's a look at where drivers who finished in the top five and top 10 over the past five Talladega races started that race.

Starting Position Top 10s Top 5s
1st to 5th 9 7
6th to 10th 11 9
11th to 15th 8 0
16th to 20th 6 3
21st to 25th 5 3
26th to 30th 6 3
31st to 35th 3 0
36th to 40th 2 0

Technically, it's easier for you to finish up front if you start there. But drivers starting between 26th and 30th had more top-five finishes than those starting between 11th and 15th, so it's pretty clear that where you start does not dictate where you will finish. And this is before we even discuss the bonus points you get for finishing better than you start.

We can further flesh out this point in just a second in the section on scoring trends at the track. But first, let's run through a few notes about driver selection.

If you're looking for drivers who excel on restrictor-plate tracks, there have been three such races this year. There have been two in Daytona in addition to the April Talladega race. The two tracks are fairly different, so there's not a one-to-one relationship between drivers who do well at Talladega and those who feast in Daytona, but it can at least provide us a glimpse at what to expect.

Additionally, this is one week where you can completely disregard practice times. The correlation between a driver's finishing position and his ranking in the first practice for this spring's race was 0.054, meaning there was essentially no relationship between the two. It's likely best to just avoid those practice times all together as they're more likely to lead you down a false path than help you uncover a contender for the race.

Historic Scoring Trends

Based on our discussion above, it seems clear that we'll want to target drivers starting further toward the back. But just how far back should we dip? The answer is pretty much anywhere.

The chart below shows the FanDuel-point output by drivers over the past five Talladega races based on where they started the race.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Talladega, 2016 to 2018

In total, 4 drivers have scored at least 70 FanDuel points in a race in this span. Those drivers started 9th, 16th, 25th, and 27th. You can score from anywhere here.

When we lower the threshold to the drivers to top 60 FanDuel points, you can further see the allure of targeting drivers in the bottom half of the field.

Starting Position Drivers to Score 60+ FD Points
1st to 5th 2
6th to 10th 6
11th to 15th 0
16th to 20th 3
21st to 25th 5
26th to 30th 5
31st to 35th 3
36th to 40th 2

There were actually more drivers to hit this mark after starting in the back half of the field (15) than there were in the front half (11). That should tell you all you need to know about this week. You want to stack the back.

Thankfully, you may get some assistance in that endeavor this weekend. Talladega is an impound race, meaning that inspection will not take place until after qualifying on Saturday night. If a driver fails post-qualifying inspection, their qualifying time will be erased, and they will start at the back. Their official starting position will also be at the back, meaning they'll have more place-differential upside than any other drivers in the pack. It may feel weird to actively seek drivers who fail inspection, but that's the way things set up for this weekend.

If a driver fails inspection and starts at the back, they will undoubtedly be a popular play in DFS. But sometimes, chalk is the chalk for a reason. Those drivers will have the highest floors and highest ceilings of any driver in the field. That justifies using them despite the ownership.

What happens, though, if we don't get a bunch of drivers to fail qualifying, and most of the top drivers start in the front? Should we ignore top-end drivers and gravitate toward the back?

Last year's fall Talladega race can help us answer that question. There, not a single playoff driver (the race was also in the round of 12 that year) qualified worse than 22nd, meaning there weren't any true studs all the way in the back. Even with that being the case, it was still fruitful to focus on drivers deeper in the pack.

The five highest-scoring drivers in that race started -- in order by the most points scored -- 27th, 39th, 26th, 6th, and 33rd. The driver who started sixth was Brad Keselowski, who won the race. Ryan Newman and Aric Almirola started 27th and 26th, and they're respectable drivers, but the other two to crack the top five in scoring were Gray Gaulding and David Ragan.

This tells us all we need to know. We've gotta pull a Hinkie and trust the process no matter how qualifying may break down.

We don't always need to target the best drivers at Talladega. We moreso need to target the ones best positioned to score us points, and those are the drivers starting in the back.

Over this five-race sample, Brian Scott, Gaulding, Kasey Kahne, Ragan, A.J. Allmendinger, and Trevor Bayne have all been in the group of drivers to score at least 60 FanDuel points. None of them have full-time rides lined up for 2019, but because they started toward the back of the pack, they were able to pump out huge days for DFS.

Again, going back to our chart before, the starting range that has produced the most races with 60 or more FanDuel points is the drivers starting 6th to 10th. So we don't need to completely ignore the drivers starting at the front. But our core should revolve around drivers starting in the latter half of the field.

If you played DFS in the spring race at Talladega, you'll remember that things didn't play out as planned there. Although Almirola cashed in from 40th spot, most of the high-scoring drivers in that race started up front. That's in the range of outcomes, but it shouldn't completely alter our thought process.

The table below shows the starting positions of the five highest-scoring drivers in the past five Talladega races. The "1st" column shows the starting spot of the highest-scoring driver in that race and so on. This year's spring race looks like a bit of an outlier.

Race 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
2018 Spring 9th 40th 2nd 5th 12th
2017 Fall 27th 39th 26th 6th 33rd
2017 Spring 23rd 10th 22nd 1st 30th
2016 Fall 16th 25th 24th 26th 32nd
2016 Spring 7th 30th 17th 34th 32nd

In the previous four races, only four drivers starting in the top 10 had been among the five highest-scoring drivers. There were three such drivers in the spring race with another in 12th. It was a major deviation from the norm.

Because that's in the range of outcomes, if you're rolling out a bunch of lineups, it makes sense to build a few focusing on drivers starting closer to the front who will carry lower ownership. But if it's a limited-entry contest or you're not playing a ton, your best move will still be to stack the back.

As far as what our most common build should look like, the other races in that table provide a pretty solid template. It's totally okay to roll the dice on someone starting high in the order if you think they're going to win the race. The winners of these five Talladega races all started in the top 16 spots, and they all are among the 16 highest-scoring drivers in the past 5 Talladega races. So if you think a driver is going to win, they're worth a look in DFS.

But after that, the other four slots should be reserved for drivers capable of generating upside via place-differential points. They could be drivers who fail inspection or just happen to start outside the top 20, but these are the drivers who will have the best combination of floor and ceiling for the race. They're going to be the focal point of our rosters.

While that should be the most common build (one potential winner and four at the back), it's also not a bad idea to fade the front completely. Denny Hamlin won here from 34th spot in 2014, so you don't need to start up front to win. If a guy who starts further back winds up snagging the checkered flag, the perfect lineup is likely to be one that is devoid of drivers who started at the front.

Finally, because Talladega is a high-variance track, it's wise to cut down our exposure to various drivers when filling out multiple tournament lineups. You can still go pretty hard at any drivers who fail inspection because their floor will be so high, but there's no guarantee that they finish well or even finish the race at all. You don't need to spread your lineups completely thin, but with all that can happen over 188 laps here, it's smart to safeguard yourself in case a driver in your core is among those who get swept up in the madness.