Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Coca-Cola 600
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 runs its longest race of the year with the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is the biggest on the calendar for racing. It's a marathon that starts in the morning and lasts long into the night.
Formula 1 kicks things off with the Monaco Grand Prix, its biggest race of the year. Then the Indianapolis 500 runs in the afternoon, and there are fewer bigger spectacles in all of sports.
NASCAR gets in on the action, as well, with a night race at Charlotte. Although the Coca-Cola 600 isn't the sport's crown jewel like we see in F1 or Indy car, it's still abundantly noteworthy.
The Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR's longest race of the year, a full 100 miles longer than any other event on the schedule. It starts in the daytime and finishes under the lights, testing equipment and each driver's stamina along the way. It's a pretty sweet way to cap off such an exciting day.
The length of the race is a key talking point when formulating strategies for daily fantasy, as well.
With 600 miles at a 1.5-mile track, we get 400 scheduled laps on Sunday night. That's a number we usually get only at short tracks, where our strategy is to gobble up as many of those laps led as possible. We'll be deploying a modified version of that strategy at Charlotte, which is very much not a short track.
Here are the drivers who have led the most laps at the past four Coca-Cola 600s. The past three editions have all featured stage racing, and as you can see, that hasn't stopped drivers from absolutely dominating.
|Year||Driver||Laps Led||Starting Position|
|2017||Martin Truex Jr.||233||8th|
|2016||Martin Truex Jr.||392||1st|
|2015||Martin Truex Jr.||131||10th|
The first takeaway is that Joe Gibbs Racing -- where Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. now drive -- should probably be in contention on Sunday night. The second is that finding laps led here has been crucial to success in the past.
Those four drivers averaged 283.25 laps out front per race, which translates to 28.3 points on FanDuel. A driver would need to make up 57 positions to get that many points from place differential, and in a field of 40 drivers, that ain't happening. Your biggest source of upside is likely to come from someone running out front all night rather than working their way up there.
That's the way things have played out in the past in this race. But it's also worth noting that this will be the first 600 in which the Cup Series has used its new aero package, which debuted earlier this year. Based on the way past races with this package have gone, that likely will influence the way we look at the race.
We're up to a four-race sample with this full new aero package in 2019. In those four races, we've seen just two drivers lead more than 100 laps, and nobody has led more than 134. That's not quite on the same level of dominance we have seen at these same tracks in the past.
Part of this is due to the number of laps in those races. But even if we look at the percentage of laps led, only one driver (Busch in Fontana) led more than 40% of the laps, and only four drivers have led more than 25% of the laps in those races.
What we have seen is tighter racing, which has led to a flatter distribution of the laps led at these tracks. It's possible the days of a single driver leading 75% of the laps are out the window.
That is not to say we can simply disregard laps led. As mentioned, we've still had four drivers lead a quarter of the laps in this four-race sample, and that amounts to 100 laps in a 400-lap race. Busch led 67.0% of the laps in Fontana, which would equate to 268 laps led in Charlotte. Even if things wind up being flatter, we're still going to want those laps led on our rosters when possible.
So what does this mean from a strategy perspective for DFS? Let's dig a bit deeper into historic scoring trends -- both at Charlotte and with the new aero package -- to find out.
Historic Scoring Trends
One of the complicated factors at play here is that we simply don't know how things will play out on Sunday night. This is easily the longest race we've had in the new package, and that does change a lot of factors. We just have to do our best to make an educated guess.
First, let's look at how scoring has been distributed at the Coca-Cola 600 in the past. This will give us a baseline of what to expect and where we can find high-upside plays in such a long event.
This chart shows the FanDuel points by starting position for each driver during the past four Coca-Cola 600s. For the 2015 race, any starting spot or finishing position worse than 40th was adjusted to be exactly 40th in order to account for FanDuel's scoring rules, which were made for a 40-car field.
As you can see, if you don't have those big lap-leaders on your roster, you're toastier than a commoner in King's Landing. There are interesting blips after that, however.
Of the 15 highest scores in the past four Coca-Cola 600s, eight came from drivers who started 14th or lower, and four came from drivers who started outside the top 20. Even if they weren't the biggest source of upside, place-differential points have still made an impact here, and that makes sense anecdotally.
Not only is 400 laps huge from a laps perspective, but it also means this race just lasts a long time. As a result, drivers who start a bit further back have the entire night to slowly work their way forward and grind out a good finish. Starting up front is not a prerequisite for success.
To a certain extent, this has been true for the lap-leaders, as well. As you saw in the table earlier, Truex twice led the most laps in the race despite starting outside the top five. Back in 2015, Kurt Busch also led 100 laps after starting 14th. It definitely helps to start at the front, but drivers can still notch some laps as the pied piper even if they are a bit deeper in the pack.
This is similar to what we've seen so far in 2019 while running the new aero package. There have been six drivers who have led at least 20% of the laps in this four-race sample; here's where they started that race.
|Driver||Race||Starting Position||Percentage of Laps Led|
|Kevin Harvick||Las Vegas||1st||33.0%|
|Joey Logano||Las Vegas||10th||32.2%|
In addition to this, Kyle Busch led 19.8% of the laps in Texas after starting 16th, and Chase Elliott led 16.6% of the laps in Kansas after starting 32nd. It certainly helps to start up front, as evidenced by Kevin Harvick in Kansas and Las Vegas, but you don't necessarily have to.
Clearly, this has had an impact on DFS scoring in those races. Drivers were able to make up ground and lead laps from deeper in the pack, which should mean that we'd see some high scores from all over the map. That has largely been true.
This chart looks at the points scored at each of the four races with the new package based on where the driver started the race. In order to account for each race being a different length and Sunday's being even longer, the laps led and laps run scoring categories were normalized out to 400 laps. So, for example, in the race where Busch led 67.0% of 200 laps, he is scored as leading 268 laps in the chart below.
Six of the seven highest totals came from drivers starting 10th or lower, four of those came from 19th or lower, and three were 25th or lower. There has been a lot of value in drivers starting further back, and that matters a lot for this weekend.
If you can find a driver who starts somewhere in the middle of the pack and finishes well, you're going to get a good scoring output. We've seen this year that drivers can still lead laps after starting outside the top 10, and you'll want drivers who do that on your roster.
When looking at all of this data, there is a strategy that emerges that combines what we've seen in races with this aero package and what we know comes along with a 400-lap race.
In each lineup, we're likely going to want two "contenders," or drivers who can push for a win. One of them should likely start closer to the front so that they can scoop up some laps led early in the race. The other can come from pretty much anywhere as long as their car shows to be fast enough in practice to push for a win and potentially get some laps led along the way.
If we have a contender at the front and one a bit further back, we're dipping our toes into multiple sources of upside. We're getting the huge upside for laps led from the driver at the front -- something we've seen work out well in past Coca-Cola 600s and saw from Busch in Fontana -- while still getting place-differential juice from the other stud.
We've seen this strategy work in other races with this package in 2019. In Las Vegas, Harvick led laps early, and Joey Logano came up from 10th to get the win. In Fontana, Busch dominated, but Brad Keselowski led 42 laps from 13th spot and had the second-most FanDuel points in the race. Having both those drivers in your lineup would have given you a big leg up on the field.
Essentially, we're targeting drivers in "waves." We want one driver from an initial wave who can lead laps early, and another driver from a second wave who can be at the front late. Having 400 laps Sunday will give plenty of time for those second-wave drivers to work their way forward, meaning they can still get out front and log some laps led.
As for the value plays to help you afford those front-running studs, we'll likely want to find them somewhere around the middle of the pack. Of the 20 drivers to wind up in a perfect FanDuel lineup for a race with this aero package, 10 have started the race 18th or lower. Those drivers don't need as good of a finish to pump out a respectable score, giving them a better floor and comparable upside to those starting closer to the front.
You don't need to entirely cross off value plays who start up front. Guys like Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman, and William Byron have started up front and still been in perfect lineups because they were able to finish well, also. It's just a bit riskier strategy and does require them to net an impressive finish.
As far as identifying which drivers will be capable of running up front or making up ground, we should put a heavy emphasis on form at tracks using this package. This means you'll want to take a look back at Las Vegas, Fontana, Texas, and Kansas to see which cars flexed the most strength during those races. Form there should take precedence over how drivers have performed previously in Charlotte given that they haven't run this package there yet.
Additionally, 10-lap averages during practice should give us plenty of assistance.
Two weeks ago in Kansas, Harvick had the best 10-lap average in both practice sessions. He had the best car during the race and led 104 laps with a tire issue being the only thing that kept him out of victory lane. Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman were also in the top seven in 10-lap averages during final practice, and they all finished in the top eight during the race. Practice times do still matter in the new setup, and when you combine that with current form, you should be able to pick some drivers who will push for a win during the race.
Again, a lot of this is guess work given that we haven't seen a race like Charlotte with 400 laps in the new package yet. But we're also not completely lost.
Based on what we've seen at races running this package in 2019 and what we've seen in Charlotte in the past, a multi-wave lineup seems to be the best route. We're giving ourselves multiple shots at nailing a driver who has a big day while taking advantage of the pass-happy nature of the new package. If we can get our wave drivers right and pick some solid value plays, the end of Sunday's racing marathon should be even sweeter.