Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Food City 500

Bristol always promises fast speeds, chaos, and plenty of laps led. What does this mean for our daily fantasy NASCAR lineups for the Food City 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 hits the fastest half-mile in racing at Bristol Motor Speedway. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Two weeks ago, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was in Martinsville, a half-mile track where Brad Keselowski won the pole with a speed of 97.830 miles per hour during qualifying.

Bristol is only 0.007 miles longer than Martinsville. But if you run 97.830 miles per hour there, you will get the run the heck over.

As opposed to being a flat, paperclip-shaped track, Bristol is 40 cars running through a blender at 125 miles per hour for 500 laps. The speeds will be high, tempers will be short, and the action figures to be raging. Giddy up.

All of the elements discussed above are going to factor into the way we build lineups for daily fantasy NASCAR. The discussion needs to start with the 500 laps the Cup Series will run, tied for the most laps any race will feature this year.

With 0.1 points per lap led being awarded on FanDuel, there are 50 points available total for drivers leading the field. With how quick laps tick away at Bristol, if you get out front to lead one lap, you're likely going to lead a bunch more.

Over the past six Bristol races, 14 drivers have led at least 100 laps in a race. All six races have featured multiple drivers hitting the 100-lap mark, and both of 2018's races saw three drivers lead at least 100 laps. All of those drivers earned at least 10 points for laps led on FanDuel, which is equivalent to 20 positions of place differential. If you miss out on those points, your lineups will be dead in the water.

Setting 100 laps as the barrier is fine, but it also may sell the importance of laps led short. There have been five drivers in this sample to lead more than 200 laps, maxing out at 276 by Carl Edwards back in 2016. It is impossible for a single driver to get enough place-differential points to overcome that even if they started last and finished first. Just by doing basic math, you can see that we're going to be placing a heavy emphasis on finding drivers who will be out front.

It will not surprise you to learn that most of these laps led come from the front. This chart shows the laps led by each driver in this six-race sample based on where they started the race, and it skews heavily toward the front.

Laps Led by Starting Position at Bristol, 2016 to 2018

Four of the six pole-sitters in this span led at least 100 laps, and they averaged 150.5 laps led. More drivers have led 100 laps after starting on the pole than drivers starting outside top 10, and we're drawing from a sample of just six drivers for the pole-sitters. It's a big advantage to start up front.

That may be even more true this time around. As we've discussed ad nauseam this year, the Cup Series is running a new aero package intended to make racing more competitive on large tracks. The full package won't be in place this weekend -- Bristol's fast, but it's not that fast -- a larger rear spoiler will be. That has made for interesting data at other tracks where drafting hasn't been a factor.

The two other shorter tracks on the schedule thus far have been Phoenix and Martinsville. The table below shows the number of green-flag passes for each track over the past three races at each venue.

Track Spring 2019 Fall 2018 Spring 2018
Phoenix 1,349 1,263 1,810
Martinsville 978 1,296 966

The two Phoenix races last year averaged 1,537 green-flag passes, and the two in Martinsville averaged 1,131. Both 2019 races were well below those numbers.

This could be just variance, but it's something drivers have mentioned after races. Although Bristol is radically different than both those stops thanks to its high banking, this likely isn't something we should ignore.

If passing is more difficult than normal, it's going to make it harder for us to find laps led outside of the front of the pack. That was already a tough task to begin with, and it should alter the way we attack DFS on Sunday.

Let's say we're considering Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski for our lineups. In our hypothetical world, Keselowski had the slightly better times in practice, but Logano's starting fourth while Keselowski is starting 12th. Which one should we favor?

In the past, we maybe could have gone with Keselowski. There have been three drivers who have led 100 or more laps from 12th or deeper in the field, and that would give Keselowski a bit of place-differential juice. It's also always good process to put faith in practice times.

But if it's hard to pass during the race, it'll take Keselowski a while to move through the field. That's going to put a cap on Keselowski's upside, even if he will have better place-differential potential than Logano.

This is less of a concern for value plays because we're not counting on them to lead laps. It's more difficult, though, for drivers in the upper salary tier to come through for DFS if they aren't out front. This may push us to prioritize drivers even closer to the front than we would have in the past at Bristol.

With this in mind, let's go back through these past six races to see which scoring trends develop. This should give us a good idea of how we should be looking to build our rosters on Sunday.

Historic Scoring Trends

The thread discussed above sounds idealistic. We want as many laps led as possible, and we want to target drivers at the front to get them. But how can we get that while also staying within the salary cap of $50,000 on FanDuel?

Last year's fall race was a good example of that.

In that race, there were four drivers who led 95 or more laps, very much in line with what we've seen in previous Bristol races. And three of those four drivers wound up in the perfect lineup.

2018 Fall Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Chase Elliott $11,000 2nd 112
Kurt Busch $10,800 9th 24
Clint Bowyer $10,400 16th 120
Joey Logano $10,200 19th 95
Trevor Bayne $6,800 23rd 0

This is also a bit idealistic because salaries were a bit more flat then than they have been in 2019, and the mid-salaried drivers happened to be the ones leading the laps. But there are still things we can learn here.

The first is that punting can absolutely work in Bristol. In that race, Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne, Chris Buescher, and Ty Dillon were all among the top 16 drivers in FanDuel points while holding salaries below $7,000. Equipment isn't as important in Bristol as in Texas, allowing underfunded teams to put up competitive finishes. This will better allow you to target higher-salaried drivers and get those laps led.

Second, we should actively seek out laps led from drivers in the middle tiers of salary. In that race, Elliott was starting second, meaning he was on the front row. He had both good speed in practice and quality current form, making him a logical choice to lead laps early on. If there's another driver who fits similar criteria starting somewhere toward the front, we should feel solid about including them in our lineups, even while acknowledging they could wind up with negative place-differential points.

To further back up the second point, Ryan Blaney was $9,600 for that race. He didn't make the perfect lineup, but he did lead 121 laps in that race. If your car is fast, and you're starting somewhere near the front, you don't need to be a betting favorite to lead laps at this track. As a result, squeezing all of these laps led into our rosters isn't as daunting of a task as it may seem.

If you combine the two points above, you should have flexibility to get guys in the Kyle Busch tier of salaries if they fit what you're looking for. In short, you should be doing whatever necessary to jam as many of those laps led into your roster.

That's what works for the drivers in the upper registers for salaries. But for the value options, we're not counting on them to lead laps. We just want a good finish and some solid place-differential points. What's the ideal starting range to target to find those?

The table below shows the FanDuel output and starting position for each driver who has led 10 or fewer laps over the past six Bristol races. In general, if someone is coming through without leading laps, they're not starting right at the front.

Starting Position Avg. FanDuel Points
1st to 5th 50.7
6th to 10th 66.0
11th to 15th 71.1
16th to 20th 71.3
21st to 25th 68.3
26th to 30th 60.2
31st to 35th 63.5
36th to 40th 54.1

If a lower-salaried driver is starting near the front, and they haven't shown the speed necessary to lead laps, you need to run away. Our sweet spot here seems to be from 11th to 25th.

When you look at pure upside, though, rather than just averages, drivers a bit deeper in the pack carry plenty of value. Each of the seven highest-scoring drivers who led fewer than 10 laps started 20th or lower, and 13 of the top 15 started 17th or lower. If you want to pop a big score, this is the range you want to target.

This is also the area you'll want to check out for your punting options. That's where Bayne started when he cracked the perfect lineup last year. Matt DiBenedetto finished 6th after starting 30th in 2016, and he very much would have been in the punting tier at that time. Even drivers with lesser equipment can move up the field at this track, and we should be looking for drivers in this range when hunting for value.

Based on what we've discussed above, our general thought process should be pretty clear. We want laps led out of our high-salaried drivers and place-differential upside from our value options. But what do we do if a fast, high-salaried driver doesn't start at the front?

It's not totally impossible for a driver in this mold to still score well. Of the 15 highest-scoring drivers in the past six Bristol races, nine started outside the top 10 spots in the race. But of those nine who started deeper in the pack, five still managed to lead 81 or more laps, and another led 41.

This means that if we're going to use a high-salaried driver starting deeper in the pack, we need to assume they're going to contend for a win. If they finish sixth without leading many laps, that's not going to do much for us (unless they start all the way in the back as Kevin Harvick did in the spring of last year). We simply need to score more points at Bristol, and doing that won't present enough upside.

So if a higher-salaried driver qualifies poorly, you need to ask yourself a question: can this driver realistically win the race? If so, then laps led are still in play (as we've seen in the past), and you should feel comfortable using them. If not, then you can fade them, even while acknowledging they will likely net you a decent number of place-differential points.

One thing to keep in mind while having this internal discussion is that it could be more difficult to pass in Bristol than it has been in the past. Drivers can still use strategy to work their way forward, and if they're fast enough, it may not matter. Still, it's at least something to keep in mind when deciding whether to pull the trigger on that driver.

The final thing worth noting before you fill out lineups is that Bristol is likely to feature a few more crashes than we've seen in recent races. This can even happen to a driver who is running out front.

Of the 238 drivers to race in our six-race sample, 53 of them (22.3%) failed to run more than 470 laps, likely indicating they had major issues during the race. Three of them led more than 100 laps prior to having their issues. The crash rate could go down thanks to the larger spoilers the cars are running, but Bristol is still Bristol.

Because of this, it's likely wise to reduce exposure levels a bit from where you'd normally put them if you're rolling out multiple tournament entries. The likelihood that each driver crashes is higher than normal, and you'll want to account for that variance in the way you build rosters. Scared money don't make no money, but having full exposure to someone who gets wrecked by a lapped car won't make you any money, either.