Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: FireKeepers Casino 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 will crank up the speeds and head to Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was designing its new aero package for the 2019 season, it had to have tracks like Michigan in mind.

Michigan is a monster of a track where cars can run multiple grooves and hold the throttle down. But at times in the past, once the field got strung out, the excitement would stagnate, leading to an unappealing race.

The early returns on the new aero package could lead to a far more thrilling product this weekend.

The initial taste test for Michigan was back in Fontana in March. Although Kyle Busch did lead 134 of 200 laps and at times run away from the field, there was still some good racing several laps into a run.

Clearly, this new rules package is going to impact the way we view Michigan from a DFS perspective. In the past, making up spots has been difficult, and if you wanted to contend, you almost had to start up front.

Before discussing that more, it's worth noting that the spring race last year was shortened due to rain, running just 133 out of a scheduled 200 laps. Because laps run and laps led are such a key aspect of scoring on FanDuel, those two totals have been adjusted to an extrapolated total if the race had gone 200 laps. So, instead of getting credit for leading 49 laps, Kevin Harvick will be tallied as having led 73.7 laps, or 36.8% of a 200-lap race.

Once we make that adjustment, over the past six Michigan races, seven drivers have led at least 60 laps. All seven of them started fourth or higher.

Of the 18 drivers who have led at least 20 laps, the lowest in the order any of them started was 13th, and only two of those 18 started outside the top 10. If you wanted to lead laps, you had to start out front.

This may not seem all that important because there are just 200 laps in the race, leaving us with 20 FanDuel points for laps led. Relative to a lot of other tracks, that's not a huge number, potentially meaning that laps led would matter less. But it illustrates a larger point, and it's one we discussed prior to Pocono last week: drivers who are fast in the race are generally also fast in qualifying.

The table below shows the starting ranges of drivers who have netted top-10 and top-five finishes in the past six races at Michigan. Although there's a bit of difference, you'll notice that this chart is similar to the same one we flashed when discussing Pocono earlier.

Starting Position Top-10s Top-5s
1st to 5th 21 11
6th to 10th 16 9
11th to 15th 11 5
16th to 20th 6 2
21st to 25th 5 2
26th to 30th 1 1
31st to 35th 0 0
36th to 40th 0 0

Only 12 of 60 drivers who got a top-10 finish started outside the top 15, and only 5 of those drivers got a top-5. It's an uphill battle to find place-differential points here.

As mentioned, this was a talking point entering Pocono, as well, in its first race in the new package. And that's exactly how things played out.

The table below looks back at the past five Pocono races with the 2017 and 2018 races being run in the old aero package. The 2019 race was the first to feature the reduced-horsepower package. The table shows the correlation between each driver's starting position and where they finished along with their average running position. Pocono actually became more stagnant under the new package.

Correlation to Starting Position Finish Average Running Position
June 2019 0.672 0.871
July 2018 0.227 0.249
June 2018 0.572 0.855
July 2017 0.630 0.773
June 2017 0.677 0.831

You can toss out the July 2018 race because a bunch of quality cars failed post-qualifying inspection there and started in the back. But passing was hyper-difficult in Pocono even with the new package.

Part of that equation will change this weekend. Because Michigan has more sweeping turns, speeds will be higher, allowing the draft to play a larger role on the straightaways. Additionally, drivers should be able to run more than one line on the track, allowing drivers to escape the "dirty air" from the car in front of them, something that made passing in Pocono almost impossible. The passing this weekend won't be an issue; it'll be finding cars capable of making passes that could prove difficult.

With NASCAR's switch back to single-car qualifying, the starting order is a bit less fluky than it was when drafting was in play for the Fontana race. Essentially, if you've got a good car, it's likely going to show up during Saturday's qualifying session, and you're going to start near the front. That makes finding place-differential points difficult.

This presents us with a similar dilemma to what we had entering Pocono. We don't have a ton of upside from drivers at the front via laps led, and we may not get quality drivers starting further back. Where, then, do we look for our DFS lineups? Let's look back at past Michigan races to try to get a handle on that.

Historic Scoring Trends

On one hand, past data at Michigan is going to be tainted. They weren't running this current package, which encourages passing and should make for a fairly thrilling race on Sunday.

But on the other, the highly predictive nature of qualifying was in place for those races, and it likely will be this weekend, too. That means we can still learn something from looking at what has happened here in past seasons.

One thing that can help us here is by looking at perfect FanDuel lineups from last year to see how they were constructed. This will account for drivers generally finishing around where they start, which certainly helps. Here's the perfect lineup from the spring race.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Kevin Harvick $12,500 4th 49
Kurt Busch $10,300 1st 46
Clint Bowyer $10,100 12th 8
Jamie McMurray $9,200 24th 0
Paul Menard $7,900 15th 3

And here's the perfect lineup from the summer race.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Kevin Harvick $12,700 3rd 108
Brad Keselowski $10,400 18th 0
Kurt Busch $10,200 12th 0
Daniel Suarez $8,400 40th 0
Austin Dillon $7,400 5th 5

There are a couple of things we can glean from these optimal rosters.

First, even in a shorter race, laps out front do matter. The spring race was cut short due to rain, and yet two of the drivers who started up front made the perfect lineup thanks -- in part -- to laps led. Laps led have been divvied up a bit more evenly in the new package, but again, Busch led 134 laps in Fontana. Dominance is still possible even with the new rules, and it allows us to still feel good about drivers starting up front if we think they can also finish there.

Second, you should take place-differential points where you can get them. In the summer race, Daniel Suarez failed post-qualifying inspection after posting blistering times in practice. He finished 11th and scored the third-most FanDuel points of any driver in the race. We don't always get fast drivers in the back -- and with inspection before qualifying on Saturday, it's even less likely -- but when the opportunity presents itself, you should take advantage.

Third, drivers starting in the teens do seem to be a good spot to get some place-differential points. They aren't slow enough to be non-factors during the race, but they can pick up some bonus points if they crank out a good finish. If we don't get any value plays starting deep in the pack, it does seem like the area between 12th and 25th can provide us with some relief.

Finally, as discussed leading into last week at Pocono, we do want to have rosters that are a bit more balanced than we may have at short tracks and true pack-racing tracks. Speed is likely to matter quite a bit here, which will be a barrier to competing for some of the underfunded teams. Drivers with salaries below $7,000 can make the studs easier to afford, but they put a good dent in the finishing upside of your roster. We should look to avoid that range if possible on Sunday.

In all, it's a similar strategy to what we had in Pocono. Try to pin drivers who will finish well, accept place-differential points where you can find them, and avoid punting if possible. Unless qualifying gives us better drivers in the back than usual here, that seems to be the ideal route for Michigan.

When trying to identify which drivers can run up front and finish well, we'll want to lean heavily on current form rather than practice times. Practice times can be influenced by circumstances outside of the driver's control -- specifically, whether they're racing in a pack or not, which will inflate speeds -- which lowers the value derived from them. We can still look here, but it's also prudent to view practice times with a bit of skepticism.

Looking at how drivers have performed while running this lower-horsepower package will carry less risk of being tainted. Pocono and Fontana are the two bigger tracks that have used this package, meaning we'll want to look at them quite a bit, but recent races at Charlotte and Kansas should also give us a glimpse at which drivers are expected to compete on Sunday.

Additionally, because we'll see a different brand of racing on Sunday than we've seen in the past at Michigan, you'll want to significantly lower the impact of track history in your process. This package clearly suits some drivers and teams more than others, and that impact will not show up when looking at races in Michigan in 2017 and 2018. We can get an idea of strategy from looking at those races because of the way qualifying works, but the performances of the drivers themselves will likely not be fully representative of what we'll see this time around.

Our strategy for this weekend could definitely change if something wonky happens in qualifying, giving us viable cars further back. If that happens, you'd be wise to get hefty exposure to those drivers and take advantage of a track that should welcome passing. If not, attack it with a similar roster construction to Pocono while targeting drivers who have shown speed in recent races. If you do that, there's a good chance your lineups will look pretty snazzy by the end of the afternoon.