Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Pocono 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 makes its first stop of the season at the tricky triangle in Pocono for the Pocono 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
Of the 13 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this year, five have been at 1.5-mile tracks. They're all a bit different, but the similarities between each stop can get repetitive at a certain point.
You don't have to worry about that at Pocono. It's a 2.5-mile triangle, and it doesn't get much more unique than that.
And with a unique track come some unique obstacles for daily fantasy.
The most impactful part of Pocono's configuration for DFS is its massive length. At 2.5 miles, it's longer than every track on the schedule except for Daytona and Talladega. And when the race is just 400 miles, that leaves us with 160 laps in the race, something that will alter our strategies for DFS.
With so few laps, there are only 16 points available for laps led on FanDuel, tied for the shortest race of the year for a non-road-course race. This puts a lid on the upside that drivers have at the front of the pack.
Over the past six races at Pocono, only one driver has led at least 100 laps. That was Kyle Busch back in 2017, leading 100 on the nose that day. That was one of three performances in which a driver led more than 52 laps, and the driver who has led the most laps in each race has averaged just 67.3 laps out front in this time. That's certainly impactful, but it's not a big number by any means.
Normally, this would push us to target drivers starting further back, hoping to snag some place-differential points. But even that presents some issues.
Because Pocono is such a big and fast track, the cream tends to rise to the top during qualifying, meaning the fastest cars in the race will already be toward the front once the green flag drops. If a car had speed, it likely would have shown that in qualifying.
The table below shows the starting ranges of drivers who have cranked out top-10 and top-five finishes at Pocono in the past six races.
|1st to 5th||22||12|
|6th to 10th||15||7|
|11th to 15th||13||5|
|16th to 20th||3||2|
|21st to 25th||2||1|
|26th to 30th||3||3|
|31st to 35th||1||0|
|36th to 40th||1||0|
It's true at every track that drivers who start at the front are going to be more likely to finish there, too. But Pocono has proven especially tricky for those who fail to qualify well.
That table may even over-sell the viability of drivers starting in the back. Last summer's race was an impound race, meaning inspection took place after qualifying, and a bunch of drivers failed inspection, pushing them to the back of the pack. Of the five drivers who landed top-10 finishes after starting worse than 25th, three were drivers who failed inspection in that race. There have been just two instances outside of that where a driver starting 26th or worse has finished in the top 10.
This weekend is an impound race again, but we're not going to get drivers who fail starting at the back. Inspection will take place before qualifying, so drivers will start the race where they qualify on Saturday. Our one source of place-differential upside is out the window.
This all isn't to say that passing is super difficult in Pocono. It's truly not, especially with the lower-horsepower package being in play for the first time at the track this weekend. It's moreso that drivers who would normally be capable of making said passes are already starting closer to the front, nullifying the appeal of place-differential points.
Combine both the low number of laps with limited place-differential potential, and you do wind up favoring a certain strategy for roster construction in DFS. Let's go through that now so we know how we should be looking to fill out lineups on Sunday.
Historic Scoring Trends
The overall trend discussed above is that it's hard to generate upside in any fashion for this race. There aren't a ton of laps to be led, and not many drivers who start poorly finish well. What this leads to is a flat scoring distribution.
In the past six races at Pocono, only one driver has managed to score more than 70 FanDuel points. That was Kyle Busch in last year's summer race when he started 28th, led 52 laps, and won the race. But as mentioned, that's an outlier due to the qualifying rules in place there that will not be in place this weekend. We shouldn't expect a performance of that nature this time around.
Outside of Busch, the maximum output for a driver in this six-race sample is 68.9 points from Kevin Harvick in that same race (another driver who started at the back). But in just a six-race sample, 14 other drivers have come within 10 FanDuel points of Harvick's mark. There's very little separation between the top score and the secondary marks at this track.
This flatter scoring distribution does funnel us toward a certain type of roster construction. Unless qualifying gets wacky, we're likely going to want more balanced rosters.
When you deploy a stars-and-scrubs approach, you generally do so because the higher-salaried drivers will have upside that towers over that of the mid-range drivers. Scrubs are acceptable options if they amp up your ceiling elsewhere.
That's unlikely to be the case this weekend. Instead, the scoring gap between those top-end options and those a bit lower will likely be smaller, meaning the incentives to use those lower-salaried drivers will be muted. Instead, we'll want to focus on drivers a bit above that tier who have better equipment and higher odds of netting a top-end finish.
The one thing that could change this approach is if multiple top-end drivers -- for whatever reason -- wind up qualifying poorly.
As we discussed before, it's not often that drivers start further back and wind up cranking out a good finish at Pocono. But when it does happen, the dividends for DFS are pretty big.
In total, 30 drivers have scored at least 55 FanDuel points here in the past six races. This table shows where those 30 drivers started the race.
|Starting Range||Drivers to Score 55+ FD Points|
|1st to 5th||7|
|6th to 10th||5|
|11th to 15th||6|
|16th to 20th||2|
|21st to 25th||2|
|26th to 30th||3|
|31st to 35th||3|
|36th to 40th||2|
In this timeframe, 10 of the top 14 scores have come from drivers who started 12th or lower. Six of the top nine scores were from drivers who started outside the top 20.
We don't get quality cars starting in the back very often, but when they're there, you had better take advantage.
We saw both of these strategies come out to play in last year's races at Pocono. In the spring race, there weren't a ton of high-end drivers in the back, and a balanced approach paid off. Here's the perfect lineup from that one.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Starting Position||Laps Led|
|Martin Truex Jr.||$11,200||4th||31|
The summer race, though, did see some high-end drivers starting further back. And two of those studs wound up being in the perfect lineup.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Starting Position||Laps Led|
Since that race, the salaries have become a bit less balanced on FanDuel with Kyle Busch sitting up at $15,500 for this week. Plugging him in at that salary may be a bit tougher than usual due to the flat nature of the scoring... unless he qualifies in the back, that is.
The overall thread of Pocono seems to be this: look for place-differential upside where you can find it, but don't force it if it's not there. If all the top-end drivers wind up qualifying well, you'll likely want to skew toward a more balanced lineup that peppers the mid-range. But if quality drivers -- whether high-salaried or not -- qualify in the back, you will want them on your rosters with regularity.
The second part of that is especially true with the new rules package in place. It has made passing in the middle of the pack far easier than it was in the past, and there will absolutely be drafting on the straightaways in Pocono. Making up spots from the back will not be an issue on Sunday. It's just finding drivers who are capable of doing so that could present an obstacle.
In order to decide which drivers are capable of making these moves, we should lean heavily on each driver's current form.
Normally, we'll be able to look at each of practice, track history, and current form to make our decisions. Practice and track history are not completely out the window here. However, we likely will not have as much 10-lap average data from practice because laps take so long to complete, and old races at Pocono took place using a completely different rules package. The data in both departments will be either tainted or incomplete.
The current form data will show us how drivers have performed while running this package during 2019. Yes, some of the tracks are wildly different, but there will be overlap in the style of racing. That matters quite a bit.
If you want a specific race to focus on, Fontana is likely your best bet. That's the only track larger than 1.5 miles -- outside of Talladega -- at which this package has been used. That means speed would have been as important there as it likely will be in Pocono. If a driver couldn't keep up in Fontana, it seems unlikely they'll be someone we should target in DFS at Pocono.
There is certainly some unknown heading into Pocono. We don't know what the rules package will look like in this setting, and we don't have a definitive roster construction prior to qualifying. But we do still have a plan.
Once qualifying goes down on Saturday, check out the lineup. If there are quality drivers starting further back, you are going to want to be proactive in getting them into your lineup. Place-differential points are the easiest path to upside at Pocono, and you want to take them where you can get them.
But if qualifying shakes out the way it has in the past here, don't force it. Try to identify drivers starting between 11th and 20th who have done well recently using this rules package and go with a more balanced approach. Even with this rules package encouraging passing, the nature of Pocono says that we should be hesitant to plug in drivers starting at the back simply out of hope of nabbing place-differential points. Just take what qualifying gives you, lean on drivers who have flexed muscle in recent races, and go from there.