Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: GEICO 500

For the first time since 1987, the Cup Series will run a race in Talladega without restrictor plates on the engines. What does this mean for us as we fill out daily fantasy NASCAR lineups?

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 races at Talladega for the first time since ditching the old restrictor-plate package. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Three of the four NASCAR races before the week-long layoff were at short tracks. They all featured at least 400 laps, meaning we were selling our souls to roster drivers who would start and run at the front of the pack.

This week, it's Talladega. Time to throw that gameplan out the window.

Talladega is more than five times longer than Martinsville and Bristol, meaning they'll run just 188 laps on Sunday afternoon. That gives 18.8 FanDuel points for laps led, which is among the lowest numbers we'll see all year. If you want upside, you had better get it via place-differential points.

Over the past six Talladega races, only one driver has led more than 100 laps in a single race, and only two have led more than 70 laps. Both of those drivers finished outside the top 10. 'Dega is a high-variance beast, and it can gobble up even those running out front.

At least, that's how it has raced in the past. But Talladega also has a new aero package that could throw a wrench into what we've seen here historically.

As we've been discussing all year, NASCAR is running a new rules package at most of the larger tracks in order to encourage drafting. That package will also (largely) be in place for Talladega, the first time they've run the track without restrictor plates since 1987.

The reason for the caveat in there is that the package has been slightly modified in order to reduce the speeds at Talladega from where they would have been under the default package. The series will run a larger spoiler and force the cars to run higher, both of which should slow the cars down while simultaneously punching a larger hole in the air to continue to encourage drafting.

Although the package is intended to make cars draft (and we have seen this in shorter runs at other tracks), there is still some element of unknown entering Talladega. What are the potential effects of these changes?

Let's go through that now and then spin it into what it all means for roster construction on Sunday.

Roster Construction and Strategies

Yes, in other races using this rules package in 2019, we have seen packs get thinned out as the run goes along. This has led to drivers still being able to dominate races and lead laps even while the field has been a bit more even. Despite this, there are a couple of reasons we should enter Talladega with a largely similar strategy to what we've deployed before in targeting drivers starting toward the back of the pack.

The biggest difference is that Talladega is larger than the other tracks the Cup Series has been to thus far. It's 2.667 miles in length, topping the other longest track in Fontana by 0.667 miles.

This means that the corners are wider, and they're also higher-banked. This will allow cars to run wide open the entire event, something not all cars could achieve for an entire run in Fontana.

Additionally, the increased spoiler and ride heights will punch a larger hole behind cars, increasing the effects of the draft. This should allow cars to remain tightly grouped for longer, keeping passing plentiful and heavy place-differential points fully in the range of possibilities.

The final difference -- and potentially the most impactful -- is that there just aren't a ton of laps at this track, which would push us toward favoring drivers starting further back even without pack racing. If we can't get upside via laps led, our only outlet is via place differential. That is still true this weekend with the total number of laps unchanged.

If we enter Sunday assuming we'll be taking a similar approach to past Talladega races, it's worthwhile to look back at those races to see what an ideal roster looks like.

Over the past six races at Talladega, there have been 32 drivers who have scored 60 or more FanDuel points (and none have topped 74.2). Here's where those 32 drivers started the race.

Starting Position Drivers to Top 60 FD Points
1st to 5th 3
6th to 10th 6
11th to 15th 1
16th to 20th 4
21st to 25th 6
26th to 30th 6
31st to 35th 4
36th to 40th 2

Overall, 18 of 32 drivers have started in the bottom half of the field. Nine of the 14 highest scores came from drivers starting outside the top 20, so if you wanted upside, you were largely finding it deeper in the pack.

The one exception to that rule was for the drivers who won the race. Of the six winners in this span, five started inside the top 10, and the other started 16th. With 43 FanDuel points going to the winner, that driver will score well no matter where they start the race.

This is what leads into a strategy we've discussed before in tournaments: making assumptions.

Basically, the way this works is that before you fill out a lineup, you make an assumption around which driver will win the race. You then plug that driver into your lineup. Then, for the other four slots, you attempt to maximize the output you can get from them without a win being a possibility. Generally, this leads to the four other drivers coming from deeper in the pack, where huge finishing points are not as necessary for a solid point total.

This strategy would have worked swimmingly in last year's fall race at Talladega. Here's the best lineup you could have created for that race while staying beneath the $50,000 salary cap on FanDuel.

Talldega Optimal Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Joey Logano $12,500 20 0
Aric Almirola $9,900 4 1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $9,700 12 0
Paul Menard $8,800 30 0
A.J. Allmendinger $6,800 23 1

Aric Almirola won the race despite leading only one lap -- the one that counted -- and was the only driver to start in the top 10 to crack the perfect lineup. All the others started 12th or lower, and three came from 20th or lower.

It's worth noting that this race almost turned out differently. Kurt Busch led 108 laps, and Kevin Harvick led 46, but both ran out of gas in the final laps and finished lower in the order. Had they finished, things could have looked a lot different at the top from a scoring perspective.

But as mentioned before, that's in line with how things go at Talladega. Big wrecks can scoop up drivers who lead laps, and if that happens, it trims the number of laps led available for relevant drivers even further. This is just an unreliable source for upside whereas it's a bit easier to pinpoint which drivers will finish better than they start.

Because of what almost happened last fall and what happened last spring -- another where the drivers who started at the front ran well all day -- we should have lineups in which we do roster multiple drivers starting in the top 10. If a single team does what Stewart Haas Racing did last year and simply plays conductor of a 40-car train, then the top scorers could skew closer to the front of the pack. But the larger sample says playing the assumption game will work out more often than not.

In cash games, things are a bit different. There, we want to maximize our floor, and the best floors will always come from drivers starting closer to the back. They have lower negative potential for place-differential points if they crash, and their upside is equal-to-or-greater-than that of those starting at the front. As a result, you'll want to target those starting in the second half of the pack in those game types.

For tournaments, our strategy at Talladega is largely unchanged. Those similarities should carry over into exposure levels for multi-entry contests, as well.

Because crashes are so common in Talladega, it's difficult to pin down which drivers will perform best during the race. Brad Keselowski is widely considered among the best restrictor-plate racers in the sport, but he still finished 33rd and 27th, respectively, in last year's Talladega races. A wreck can happen to anybody, no matter how talented they are or how good of a play they appear to be in DFS.

As a result, we should have lower exposure levels to drivers in tournaments than we would have at most other tracks. If a skilled driver is starting toward the back, you can absolutely get them onto a decent number of rosters, but you'll want to have enough hedge lineups excluding them where you can still have a good day should they crash.

Perhaps the one alteration we could make is that the new package could shake up which drivers figure to run best once the race gets underway. In past Talladega races, underfunded teams were able to keep pace and post top-10 finishes, a feat far less likely at other tracks. If the new package makes equipment more important -- thus de-emphasizing driver abilities -- we could see drivers with poor history at restrictor plates trend up while others in lesser equipment trend down.

Because of this, we may want to put a bit extra emphasis on current form than we have in the past when picking which drivers to roster. They're not using restrictor plates anymore, meaning driving styles here may be different than they were for past races at the track. We can still look at history at Talladega (and Daytona to an extent), but that data may not be as representative of who will succeed this weekend as it has been in the past. Current form has always mattered at Talladega; it just may matter a bit more this weekend.

Talladega is a different beast, both from other tracks on the circuit and from what it has been prior to 2019. It could very well play out differently under the new rules package. But with what we know about the number of laps in the race and can assume about the new package, playing the assumption game still seems to be the way to go in tournaments. It has worked in past Talladega races, and based on the information we have at hand, it seems like it could work again on Sunday. Combine that with the other strategies discussed, and your lineups should be prepared to deal with whatever this animal of a track sends their way.