Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: STP 500

Sunday's race in Martinsville is scheduled to run 500 laps, easily the longest of any race so far this year. What impact does this have on our lineups for NASCAR DFS?

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 hits a short track for the first time this year with the STP 500 in Martinsville. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Before formulating a strategy for any Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the first thing you need to know is the number of laps in the race. Martinsville is a great illustration of why.

Last week in Fontana, there were 200 laps, leaving 20 points available for laps led on FanDuel. This week, that number will more than double as drivers will complete 500 circuits in Martinsville before the checkered flag drops. If you ignore those 50 points, your lineups will be gasping for air.

In each of the past six races at Martinsville, there have been multiple drivers who have led at least 72 laps during the race. Thirteen drivers have led at least 100 laps in this span, 6 have topped 170 laps, and 3 have led 270 or more. The winning lineups this week are going to score a boatload of points.

This is going to push us toward a more top-heavy approach than we've had in previous races this year where there were fewer laps to be led. But that isn't to say that all laps led will come directly from the front.

In our six-race sample, six drivers have led at least 150 laps. None of those six started higher than seventh, and two of them started outside the top 10. Last fall, Joey Logano led 309 laps from 10th spot, the second-highest laps-led total in this span. As long as your car is good enough, you can lead the race from outside the front row.

Because it takes a bit of time for these stout cars to reach the front, though, drivers who start on the first couple of rows have a shot to jump out and lead a bunch of laps early on. If we broaden our scope and look at the drivers who have led between 75 and 150 laps, five of those eight started in the front two rows, and none of them started lower than seventh.

This basically gives us two different waves of lap-leaders in most races. The first wave is the driver or drivers who will lead laps early on, likely coming from the first few rows in the starting order. The second wave is once the cream rises to the top and the truly elite cars can handle the second half of the race. If possible, you're likely going to want both of those waves on your rosters for DFS.

In the past, we've talked about the value of making assumptions while filling out tournament rosters. That will be a key again this weekend in Martinsville. You'll likely want to pick two drivers who have cars capable of running up front and winning. The first should come from near the front, giving them a leg up in leading laps early. The second can come from a bit deeper in the pack in hopes that they'll be leading laps when they count most late in the race. If you nail both of these waves, your lineup will be getting a massive bump in upside via laps led.

One thing worth noting for this weekend, however, is that Martinsville is the first impound race of the year, which could shake things up after qualifying.

For those of you who are new to NASCAR, an impound race is when pre-race inspection takes place immediately after qualifying. If a car fails inspection, their qualifying time is disallowed, and they will start at the back of the pack. This means their official qualifying position will be somewhere in the 30s, setting them up for big time place-differential points, assuming their car is strong enough to make up that time. Passing is possible at Martinsville, so this is another potential avenue for upside.

How does this impact our strategy when it comes to DFS? Let's take a look at past scoring trends to try to figure that out.

Historic Scoring Trends

Last year's fall race in Martinsville is going to be an ideal template for figuring out the laps-led-versus-place-differential debate for this weekend. There were drivers at the front who led laps, but several big-name drivers also had to start in the rear.

One of those drivers was Martin Truex Jr., who failed post-qualifying inspection and had to start 33rd. Because Truex's FanDuel salary was $11,400, using him essentially meant you were forgoing a crack at adding another lap-leader to your roster. There was a true opportunity cost in rostering Truex.

That didn't stop him from being in the perfect lineup. Truex worked his way forward to claim a third-place finish that week, landing himself a spot in the perfect lineup for the race. And he was not alone among the drivers who failed inspection and stated at the rear.

2018 Fall Perfect Lineup Starting Position Laps Led Salary
Joey Logano 10th 309 $12,500
Martin Truex Jr. 33rd 18 $11,400
Jimmie Johnson 34th 0 $9,200
Ryan Newman 16th 0 $9,000
David Ragan 36th 0 $6,000

Truex, Jimmie Johnson, and David Ragan all started in the back, but because of the place-differential points they racked up, they were part of the best lineup you could have made for the race. It also meant the top nine drivers in the starting order were bypassed entirely.

The most interesting driver not in the perfect lineup was Kyle Busch. He started on the pole, led 100 laps, and finished fourth, giving him the third-most FanDuel points of anybody in the field. But because Truex got 15 place-differential points (compared to the 10 points Busch got for leading laps), it was Truex in the perfect lineup instead of Busch.

If Truex had carried a lower salary (similar to what we saw with Johnson and Ragan), he would have been a no-brainer for inclusion in our lineups because the opportunity cost would have been much lower. Drivers around Johnson's and Ragan's salary tiers are much less likely to lead laps, meaning using them doesn't necessarily cap our upside. But with Truex's salary being what it was, there was a legit decision to be made: do we shoot for two lap-leaders, or do we take Truex's lofty floor in the back of the pack?

If you're filling out multiple tournament rosters, the correct answer here is a mix of the two. There's not a 100% chance that Truex comes through with a solid finish, in which case you'll want to skew toward gobbling up more laps led. But if he does finish well, then Truex clearly will be a great option.

Because that's a bit of a cop out, here's a thought process you can use if filling out just a single lineup. The scoring parameters are set in advance once qualifying is wrapped up, meaning you can sort through in your head what the ideal route is.

Back in the fall, Truex qualified 33rd. That means that if he had finished 1st, he would have gotten a maximum of 16 points via place differential on FanDuel. That's equivalent to 160 laps led. If he were to finish seventh, instead, that would have been good for 13 place-differential points, equivalent to 130 laps led.

Essentially, what you want to do is give yourself a projection of where you think the driver starting in the back will finish. Then, calculate out the place-differential points tied to that finishing position. If you think two drivers will get more points for laps led than that driver will get for their place differential, then you're going to want to favor the drivers closer to the front. If not, you can happily take on the safety tied to the driver in the back.

So as to help you with this thought process, here's a look at the most laps led by an individual driver over the past six Martinsville races.

Race Most Laps Led Second Most Laps Led Third Most Laps Led
2018 Fall 309 100 41
2018 Spring 215 145 111
2017 Fall 184 123 108
2017 Spring 274 116 42
2016 Fall 176 147 92
2016 Spring 352 72 45

On average, the driver who has led the most laps has led 251.7 of them. No amount of place-differential points can overcome that, and you're going to want that driver on your roster no matter what.

The average for the second-highest total is 117.2, which is a bit different. That's equivalent to roughly 23 spots of place-differential points, which would have been a 10th-place finish for Truex in the fall race from his starting position of 33rd. Of course, that finish would also give him fewer finishing points, but you can see why the scales start to tip more towards the drivers starting in the back here.

That's the discussion around drivers who come with a hefty salary. For cheaper drivers, it's not as much of a dilemma.

As mentioned, you can make passes in Martinsville, and drivers starting in the back have time to make up ground. Of the 32 drivers who have scored at least 90 FanDuel points in the past 6 Martinsville races, 9 of them started 25th or lower.

FanDuel Points by Starting Position at Martinsville, 2016 to 2018

Once you filter out all the scores boosted by laps led -- the dots at the top of the graph -- you can score well from pretty much anywhere in the pack. And given that these lower-salaried drivers are unlikely to lead laps in the first place, you can start to see the advantages of using drivers starting low in the order.

Of course, there is a pretty major qualifier tied to this. Even after tying in place-differential points, a driver does still need to post a good finish in order to score well on FanDuel. So if you're using a driver in the back, you need to ensure their car is good enough for them to finish well or else they're not going to get you any place-differential points to begin with. As long as they pass that sniff test, though, you should be positioned well to get some quality scores.

Outside of laps led, another byproduct of Martinsville being a short track is that punting is more viable. Not only does equipment matter less -- allowing lesser-funded teams to better compete -- but an increased number of crashes will push drivers running at the back forward. Both of those factors are beneficial for the drivers in the punting range.

Punting should carry additional allure if it allows you extra upside on your roster. Because there are a good number of points available for both laps led and place differential, we need to be more willing to get creative in order to squeeze a higher ceiling out of our lineup. If punting gives you a chance to add another driver at the front who could lead laps or another who is in position to get place-differential points, we should be willing to do it, as long as that driver has a realistic shot at earning a top-15 or so finish.

In order to determine this -- and to decide which drivers figure to push to lead laps during the race -- we'll be able to lean on 10-lap averages during Saturday's practices. Martinsville's a short track, allowing drivers to tick off 10 consecutive laps in a hurry. As a result, 33 drivers had a 10-lap average during last year's first practice, and 35 did so during the second session. Truex had the best 10-lap average during the first practice last fall, and Busch led the 10-lap averages during final practice. Both finished within the top four slots in the race.

The overall thread for Martinsville is that laps led are back to being a priority after a couple of weeks on the (relative) backburner. Unless we get a stud who fails post-qualifying inspection, you're probably going to want two drivers capable of leading laps on each roster, no matter where those two drivers may start the race. After that, you can start to filter in the place-differential candidates. But if you fail to correctly pinpoint the driver or drivers who take command of Sunday's race, it's going to be tough sledding for your rosters regardless of the format.