Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Auto Club 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 wraps up its West Coast swing with the Auto Club 400 in Fontana. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
Two weeks ago in Las Vegas, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debuted its full new aerodynamic package to mixed results. Even though cars got strung out on long runs, running counter to the pack-racing narrative that had emerged prior to the race, things were still tight right up until the end.
The hope for this new package was that it would create more of a draft behind the cars and make passing a bit easier. In that regard, the package lived up to its billing.
LOOP DATA: Today's race had 47 green flag passes for the lead all throughout the racetrack and 3,345 total green flag passes.
Both figures are MOST EVER at Las Vegas. #NASCAR
— Mike Forde (@mforde) March 4, 2019
Normally, when there's a number that large, you could assume there was a ton of passing on restarts. But because the only cautions came for the two stage breaks, there were only two restarts the entire race, meaning that number above is fully legit. Even if the racing did get strung out, there was action aplenty.
This pass-happy style of racing took place in Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track. This time around, they'll be at a sweeping, two-mile venue in Fontana, California, where the speeds figure to be high, and the package could play up to its maximum level. We're going to see how legit those passing numbers in Las Vegas truly were.
If we do get to see similar passing numbers -- or even larger ones -- it'll be a big factor for DFS. Those passing numbers mean drivers who start further back can make up ground in a hurry, giving those in the back big upside via place differential. It would also potentially limit the ability one driver would have to dominate the race, putting a lid on the upside drivers have at the front for laps led. Both of those factors would push us to favor drivers starting outside the front couple of rows.
Another factor pushing us in that direction is the limited number of laps to begin with here. The Auto Club 400 is scheduled for 200 laps, leaving 20.0 points available for laps led on FanDuel. That's tied with Daytona for the fewest laps we've had in a race this year and 67 fewer than any other stop thus far.
We've seen the effects of this in recent California races. Over the past four stops here, only four drivers have managed to lead more than 70 laps in a single race. In the 2015 running, no driver led more than 65. There have been three drivers who have managed to lead at least 110 laps, but there's not a ton of wiggle room to go beyond that given how short the race is from a laps perspective. Add in the new package, and it's fair to say that laps led will be much less of an emphasis than they were last week in Phoenix.
This is not to say that we should completely ignore drivers at the front, and we'll talk more about why in the section on roster construction. But relative to last week -- and relative to past California races -- we're going to be focusing more on place differential.
In the past, place-differential points have been a bit hard to come by in California. Of the 40 drivers to net a top-10 finish in the past four races here, 24 started in the top 10, and 37 started inside the top 20. Only six drivers have finished in the top five after starting outside the top 10.
The big reasoning for that is how fast California is. If your car is fast enough to finish well in the race, that speed will show up in qualifying, as well. As such, drivers starting in the back are probably starting there for a reason, limiting their ability to work their way forward.
This is another area where the new package will play a role. Because drafting will be present in qualifying, the fastest drivers won't necessarily qualify at the front; instead, those spots will go to the drivers and teams that strategize best during qualifying. This is going to create some inefficiency in the starting order that we'll have to try to exploit.
That's exactly how things played out two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Three of the top-five finishers started 10th or worse, including one in 19th and another in 28th. Three other drivers who finished in the top 10 started outside the top 10, and two of those were outside the top 20. This was even without any major contenders getting into dust-ups that took them out of contention, artificially pushing drivers in the back forward. There was just more passing there than we had grown used to.
The expectation is that there could be even more drafting -- and thus more passing -- this weekend in Fontana. What does that mean for our DFS lineups from a roster construction perspective? Let's dig in and check it out.
Based on the way the package played out in Las Vegas and the lack of points available for laps led, we know we want to put an increased emphasis on place-differential points. As mentioned before, that does not mean we should ignore drivers at the front of the pack.
Going back to Las Vegas, two drivers in the optimal FanDuel lineup started in the top 10. Joey Logano won from 10th spot, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. cracked the optimal because he and his $7,800 salary finished sixth after starting eighth. Even in that race, there was still value in drivers starting in the top 10.
The other three drivers in the optimal started 18th, 25th, and 28th. If you look at just the six highest-scoring drivers in the race, four started 19th or lower, but Kevin Harvick ranked fourth in points scored after starting on the pole. Even though there was a ton of value in drivers starting in the back, those at the front were not complete wastes of roster space.
Another factor that can increase the allure of drivers at the front is the role of tire wear in Fontana. The track shreds tires much more quickly than other tracks do. This means the handling on cars will go away a few laps into a run, which could spread things out. While drivers further back will still be able to make passes if their car is fast enough, this could prevent the draft from playing too much of a factor, allowing a car to step out and control a good chunk of the race. As we've seen in the past, there likely will not be more than one driver who gets a big bump from laps led, but seeing one do so would not be overly shocking.
As a result, we should be looking to deploy a similar strategy to what we discussed prior to Las Vegas and have used previously at restrictor-plate tracks: make assumptions in your tournament lineups.
If you assume Brad Keselowski is going to win the race, it doesn't matter where he starts; he will score well from a fantasy perspective. You will want him in your lineup.
For each tournament roster you fill out, you should be making an assumption around which driver will win the race. Once you make that assumption, ask if other drivers can score well if that's the driver who wins. The answer to that question will depend on where the driver you assign the victory starts.
Let's stick with Keselowski as the example here. Let's say he starts fourth, and we assume he gets the win. If Keselowski is the winner, giving him the 43 points for finishing and -- we can assume -- some points for laps led, the upside of other drivers starting in the front will be reduced. As a result, we should focus on drivers starting further back to fill out the other four slots on our roster.
If Keselowski is our winner, and he's starting further back, then we have more leeway to go with a driver starting closer to the front if we think they can lead laps and finish well. Basically, our roster construction in tournaments depends on whom we designate to be the winner in that lineup.
Depending on what happens in qualifying, this could lead to us completely ignoring the front of the field. If there are enough place-differential candidates starting further back, this may be the ideal route to go, especially for cash games. It's just worth noting that you don't have to completely ignore the front if you assume that driver either wins or gets some laps led.
When it comes to identifying drivers who can get place-differential points, we'll be able to lean on practice data. We'll just have to view it with a bit of skepticism.
With the way the draft figures to work, certain cars will have inflated single-lap speeds in practice if they pull up behind another car at an opportune time. But the data we get from 10-lap averages will be less influenced by these runs, meaning we need to weigh that data far more heavily than single-lap speeds.
Even though California is a huge track, we should still get 10-lap averages for most cars. In last year's race, 28 drivers had 10-lap averages for the final practice, and 18 drivers had them in the first Saturday session. Teams will likely want to get a gauge on how quickly tires wear, leading to these extended runs.
If we circle back to the optimal lineup for Las Vegas, here's where those five drivers ranked in 10-lap averages during final practice that weekend.
|Driver||Starting Position||10-Lap Average Rank|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||8th||9th|
Logano hadn't shown a ton of speed in practice, but he had mopped up at 1.5-mile tracks down the stretch run of 2018 and has always performed well at Las Vegas. Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, and Erik Jones all were much faster in final-practice 10-lap averages than they were in qualifying, making them look like attractive outlets for place-differential points. That's exactly how things played out in the race.
Once you look at practice speeds and account for current form and -- to a lesser extent -- track history, you should be able to identify drivers capable of racking up place-differential points. It's possible qualifying will make this task easier depending on how well the fast cars draft, but either way, we should be able to find cars we dig who will make up ground during the race.
These are the drivers we'll want to focus on for cash games. Under the current rules package, these drivers will bring upside, and they'll also have tasty floors due to the lowered odds of negative place-differential points. That's exactly what we want in that game type.
They should also be the core of our tournament lineups. This would be the group we'd focus on after we pick our winner (though the designated winner could also come from this bunch). Where we cycle through various drivers with lower exposure in tournaments would be the ones starting closer to the front with high ceilings but less steady floors.
Overall, we should be treating California in a similar fashion to what we've done at restrictor plates in the past, though to a less extreme measure. We should be looking for place-differential candidates with the ability to finish well while having capped exposure to drivers starting at the front. If the package plays out the same way it did in Las Vegas, this strategy should position us for a solid day in daily fantasy.