Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: TicketGuardian 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 heading to Phoenix for the TicketGuardian 500. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
Through the first three weeks of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, we've seen the cars run three separate aerodynamic packages. This Sunday in Phoenix, we'll see a fourth.
But this time around, we'll actually know what to expect.
As the Cup Series heads to ISM Raceway in Phoenix, they'll be running the same rules package they've used there in the past. That means we can actually look to those older races for guidance on how to fill out our DFS lineups.
Phoenix is a bit of an odd duck from a DFS perspective. It races like a short track as it's just a mile in length, but there are only 312 laps, giving us 31.2 points available for laps led on FanDuel. Most other short-track races have 400 or more laps, meaning the upside for laps led here is a bit more limited than we'd see at Richmond, Martinsville, and Bristol.
That hasn't stopped laps led from playing a major role in scoring.
Over the past six races at Phoenix, seven drivers have led at least 100 laps, and 12 drivers have led at least 60. That's a major boost for your lineups if you have them on the team.
More often than not, these laps led are going to come from the front of the pack. Of those 12 drivers to top 60 laps led, six started on the front row, and only one started outside the top 10. That one was Kevin Harvick in 2016, leading 139 laps from the 18th spot, but he's essentially a cyborg at this track. Unless someone like Harvick is starting deep in the order, we should be looking for laps led from drivers who qualify well.
This is more broadly true, too, when trying to identify drivers who will finish well. As Harvick showed, you can make up spots if your car is fast enough; it's just not overly common for a car starting in the back to contend for a win. Over the past six races, here's where the top-5 and top-10 finishers have started the race.
|Starting Position||Top-10 Finishes||Top-5 Finishes|
|1st to 5th||15||11|
|6th to 10th||15||10|
|11th to 15th||9||3|
|16th to 20th||9||3|
|21st to 25th||7||2|
|26th to 30th||4||1|
|31st to 35th||0||0|
|36th to 40th||0||0|
This is what you'd broadly expect as fast cars are going to be fast in qualifying, too. But it means that finding place-differential points will be a more difficult task than it has been the first three races of the season.
Of course, this could always change if qualifying gets wonky. If someone like Harvick is starting 25th, their place-differential upside will be fairly massive. We just can't assume that those opportunities will be available to us.
Based on all of this, we should assume we'll be targeting a pair of drivers who can lead laps and then trying to scrounge up some place-differential points to fill out our roster. Where can we find those place-differential points, though, if passing is tough? Let's take a look at the scoring trends in Phoenix to see if we can get a better idea.
Historic Scoring Trends
If you're looking for big upside at Phoenix, you're going to get it via laps led. That should be no surprise given the previous conversation.
Over the past six races at the track, seven of the nine highest FanDuel scores came from drivers who started in the top 10. The only exceptions came from Harvick's aforementioned 2016 run and Ryan Newman in 2017. Newman won the race from 22nd after leading just six laps. He's the only driver in the top six in scoring who didn't lead at least 100 laps.
Once we go down the list a bit, though, we do start to see some drivers who posted solid scores after starting outside the front. In this six-race sample, 34 drivers have managed to score at least 70 FanDuel points. Here's where they started.
|Starting Position||Drivers to Score 70+ FD Points|
|1st to 5th||8|
|6th to 10th||8|
|11th to 15th||3|
|16th to 20th||5|
|21st to 25th||5|
|26th to 30th||5|
|31st to 35th||0|
|36th to 40th||0|
You do still get a heavy dose of cars starting in the top 10, most of them contributing via laps led. But the area between 16th and 30th isn't completely devoid of goodness.
The interpretation of this is that in order to find truly high-upside days, the driver likely needs to start up front. That's where you'll get laps led, and that is the easiest path to a big day in Phoenix.
But if you're looking for a solid day, you can venture a bit further back. It might not result in a top-five finish, but you can net a top-10, and that's enough to pay off once you tack on the place-differential points.
It's also reassuring that not all of these drivers who finished well from the back were in elite equipment. If it were littered with top-end drivers who qualified poorly, we'd have a hard time getting low-cost place-differential points. That wasn't always the case.
In 2017, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started 21st and finished 4th, good for 76.9 FanDuel points. Jamie McMurray and Bubba Wallace both netted good finishes in last year's fall race despite starting outside the top 20. Ty Dillon turned an 11th-place finish into 70.2 FanDuel points after starting 29th in the fall of 2017. All of those drivers would have been lower-salaried assets had DFS been offered for each of those events.
McMurray and Wallace were both in the perfect lineup for last year's race, the only Phoenix race in this sample in which FanDuel offered contests. The others were Kyle Busch -- the winner -- Brad Keselowski, and Aric Almirola. Those five drivers started 6th, 12th, 18th, 21st, and 30th. Even though Kevin Harvick led 73 laps, his fifth-place finish and $14,500 salary left him off of the ideal roster.
This is all to say that even though laps led are important, we don't need to completely ignore place-differential points, especially in our value plays. Those drivers are unlikely to get laps led, so they'll need to accumulate points instead via place differential and a solid finish.
Shifting our focus toward roster construction, in Phoenix, there are likely three different ways the race could go down. We should tailor our strategies around an assumption that things go one of these ways.
First, we could get a race the way things have gone recently with two drivers leading a bunch of laps. This has happened in four of the past six races at Phoenix with multiple drivers leading 60 or more laps, and in one of them, two drivers led more than 100 laps. If that happens, we're going to want to skew heavy toward the front with two lap-leaders on our roster before focusing on cars lower in the pack.
Second, it could be a race with a single dominator. In the fall races in 2016 and 2017, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin, respectively, led 190 laps all by themselves. This trims the number of laps led available to other drivers significantly, meaning the best source of upside will be place differential. If you assume the race goes this way, you'll likely want to stick to just one driver starting in the top 10.
The third scenario also involves that Hamlin race in 2017. Hamlin led 193 laps, taking the field to school. But a crash with less than 50 laps to go took him out of the race, leading to a 35th-place finish.
There, Hamlin got to keep all the laps from laps led. This trims the laps available for other drivers at the front down, meaning the other drivers in the race have limited sources of upside outside of place differential. As such, five of the top eight scores on FanDuel for the race came from drivers who started outside the top 10, and three of them were from drivers who started outside the top 20.
If we go back to our four races that featured two drivers gobbling up most of the laps led, the drivers who controlled the race also finished well twice. In the other two races, one of the drivers who led a bunch of laps dropped off at the end, which would lend itself more to a single-dominator lineup.
Overall, this seems to hint that we'll want to have two drivers we think will lead laps on roughly one-third of our tournament rosters. On the other two-thirds, we can put a bit of a heavier emphasis on place differential, assuming only one top-end finisher will benefit from leading laps. This type of build could be especially fruitful if a quality, high-salaried driver performs poorly in qualifying on Friday.
The big thread here, though, is that Phoenix is not Daytona, Atlanta, or Las Vegas. We need to work harder to find laps led here than we have at the other places. Otherwise, we'll miss out on a big performance and be fighting from behind on all of our rosters.
Another difference is that the rate of attrition in Phoenix is likely to be smaller than we'd see at other tracks (not counting Sunday's race in Las Vegas, which was squeaky clean). In our six-race sample, 199 of 234 drivers to start a race ran at least 300 laps, meaning day-ending crashes were decently rare. This has two implications.
The first is that we can be a bit aggressive with drivers we like from an exposure perspective. The odds they wreck aren't super high, so if we have reason to think they'll smash, we can put them on a bunch of our rosters.
The second takeaway is that punting isn't nearly as viable as it is at some other tracks, including other shorter tracks. Every time a driver wrecks, the cars running behind them move up one spot in the order. At Phoenix, we get fewer of those positional bumps, meaning drivers who start in the back are more likely to finish there. That's why we haven't seen a driver pick up a top-10 finish after starting 31st or lower within the past six races. Using lower-salaried drivers is fine, but you want to make sure they're drivers capable of churning out a top-15 finish.
If you're looking for an overarching strategy here, it's this: identify two drivers you think will be the strongest for the weekend, regardless of where they're starting. Then search for value plays who will finish better than they're starting. That may sound idealistic, but we'll have tools to help us in the search.
During last year's fall race at Phoenix, four of the six drivers with the best 10-lap averages during final practice went on to net a top-five finish. Erik Jones was third in the final session and had a 10th-place average running position, and Joey Logano wrecked after being fifth in 10-lap averages. All the others were near the top of the scoreboard at the end of the race.
Because Phoenix is such a short track, most drivers should have 10-lap averages for at least the final practice on Saturday if not the morning session, as well. We should be willing to put plenty of stock in those numbers while filling out our lineups, searching for that big upside that comes from running at the front of the pack.