Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Camping World 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 is heading to Chicagoland for the Camping World 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
In developing a new aerodynamics rule package for 2019, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was hoping to create a more exciting brand of racing. They wanted passing, tight finishes, and side-by-side action.
Those things were already happening in Chicagoland even before the changes.
That should set things up for a barnburner on Sunday afternoon.
We've now seen this new aero package used seven different times in 2019, and four of them have been at 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland. The results thus far seem to be to NASCAR's liking.
The table below looks at the four races at 1.5-mile tracks using this full new package and compares the number of green-flag passes we've seen in 2019 to what each respective race had in 2018. Things have been up drastically across the board.
The Charlotte race was the only one with single-car qualifying and without drivers dropping to the rear due to inspection violations, meaning that the qualifying order was -- in theory -- the fastest cars at the front. Even there, the number of green-flag passes shot up 28.7% from 2018 to 2019, so it wasn't just because of outside factors that passing had gone up. This package has absolutely made passing in the middle of the pack easier.
Last year's Chicago race featured 2,675 passes, more than any of the above tracks outside of Charlotte. But that Charlotte race was 133 laps longer, meaning there were more passes per lap in Chicago (10.0) than Charlotte (7.6). This is a wide track with multiple grooves to utilize, and the new aero package could make things even more exciting here.
The big implication of this is that cars starting in the back of the pack should have no issue working their way forward as long as their car is fast enough. That means place-differential points will be up for grabs if we get quality cars that fail to qualify well.
Although that's not a guarantee, there's a good chance we'll get some of these opportunities in Sunday's race.
Clip/save: With Cup cars having all practice & qualifying Saturday at Chicagoland, cars to be impounded after qualifying. Lineup not official until tech Sunday morning. Cars that don’t pass on first try have times disallowed & official starting spot behind all those who pass.
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 24, 2019
If a car fails post-qualifying inspection, their official starting position -- and thus where they are scored from for place-differential purposes -- will be in the back of the pack. That means super fast cars could be starting toward the back, and it's something we'll want to exploit if it does play out that way.
In last year's race, four drivers failed post-qualifying inspection. One of them -- Martin Truex Jr. -- finished fourth, and Denny Hamlin took home a seventh-place finish. Three of the four were in the perfect FanDuel lineup for the race, including Chris Buescher, who finished back in 22nd. Because he started 39th, his place-differential points were enough to boost him into the perfect lineup despite a mediocre finish.
Outside of creating the potential for massive value, having inspection after qualifying is noteworthy for DFS for another reason. It means that the starting order will likely not be set until some time late Sunday morning. As a result, you're likely going to want to be around your computer some time Sunday around noon or so to either build lineups from scratch or alter ones already created. Inspection will change the landscape of the slate, and failing to take advantage of it will put your lineups in a massive hole before the race even begins.
We'll talk more about place-differential points in our section on roster construction. But first, it's worth noting that drivers still can lead a significant number of laps even with the new package encouraging passing.
Although passing has become easier deeper in the pack, it has at times made it tougher to pass the leader. The driver out front doesn't have to deal with turbulent air created by having drivers in front of them, which allots them extra stability. When the second-place runner comes up behind them, they'll have a tough time making a pass because the leader is essentially running on a different, smoother track with the lack of "dirty air" in front of them.
As such, laps led have still mattered, even if the distribution of them has been a bit flatter. That definitely is noteworthy for Chicagoland.
Let's go back to those aforementioned four races at 1.5-mile tracks using this package. All four have been different lengths, which matters quite a bit from a DFS perspective, so we're going to normalize them all out to be 267 laps, which is the length of Sunday's race in Chicago. For example, instead of being credited for leading 116 laps in Charlotte, we'll mark Truex down as having led 77 laps in that race (equivalent to leading 29.0% of the laps in a 267-lap race). This will help things be more representative of what we can expect this weekend.
Once we do this, we see that four drivers have still managed to lead at least 75 laps in this four-race sample, good for 7.5 FanDuel points. Each race has featured multiple drivers leading 48 or more laps, and that's a bump you'll happily accept on your roster. Getting the 4.8 points for laps led is roughly equivalent to 10 spots of place-differential, so we can't simply ignore laps led in these races.
The one thing that has changed is where drivers leading those laps have started the race. It has still been an advantage to start on the pole -- the two drivers to lead the most laps both started at the front -- but drivers starting in the teens now are better able to log laps as the pied piper. Of the eight drivers to lead at least 50 laps, half started 10th or lower, and two started outside the top 15.
So, laps led still matter, but we can now find them deeper in the pack than we used to be able to, and we have to consider all of this while hunting for place-differential points. What does this mean for roster construction, and how should we be looking to build lineups on Sunday? Let's dig deeper into what we've seen so far this year to try to find out.
If we want to know how we should look to construct rosters for Chicago, our best indicator will not be past Chicago races. There's only one race there per year, which limits data, and the new package has changed pretty much everything.
Instead, we're going to want to focus on other 1.5-mile tracks that have run this package to see what pops up. And the data there gives us a lot of freedom.
In our four-race sample at 1.5-mile tracks with this package, there have been 27 drivers who have scored at least 65 FanDuel points in a race (once again adjusting those race lengths to mirror the 267 laps they'll run in Chicago on Sunday). Here's the starting range for each of those 27 drivers.
|Starting Range||Drivers With 65+ FD Points|
|1st to 5th||7|
|6th to 10th||4|
|11th to 15th||3|
|16th to 20th||2|
|21st to 25th||6|
|26th to 30th||2|
|31st to 35th||3|
|36th to 40th||0|
As mentioned, you can still score points after starting up front despite the pass-happy package. Laps led do still matter. Because of that, you can score points from pretty much anywhere in the field as long as the car is fast.
The race in Kansas -- another impound race -- is a great example of this. There, Chase Elliott was starting 32nd after failing post-qualifying inspection. But he quickly worked his way forward, led 45 laps, and finished 4th. That's the upside of guys who start in the back; you're getting a place-differential cushion without sacrificing finishing points.
Because of this, the mindset entering the weekend should be to take place-differential points where you can find them. If a quality driver fails inspection and starts in the back, you should have them on a buttload of your rosters. Given how easy it is to pass, those guys are highly likely to put forth a huge effort.
This is also where we'll want to look first for value plays. If we can get a top-15 finish from a value driver starting between 15th and 25th, it'll put us in a good position for a solid day. They don't have the same risk as value drivers up front because of the lower potential for negative place-differential, and they can generate a bit of upside by gaining spots during the race.
All of this is not to say that we should ignore drivers starting at the front, whether they're a stud or a value play.
All four races at 1.5-mile tracks with this rules package this year have had multiple drivers land in the perfect lineup after starting in the top 10. In Las Vegas, it was the winner and a value play who finished sixth. In Texas, both Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez cracked the perfect lineup after starting in the top five despite not winning the race. In Kansas, four of the five drivers in the perfect lineup either failed post-qualifying inspection or started in the top five, just about as different as you can get.
This is why we don't need to enter the race targeting any specific starting range for the drivers on our rosters. Obviously, we'd love to snag them lower in the order because that's great for their floors and comes with great upside. But if we don't get drivers back there who can finish well, we shouldn't force the issue.
The big difficulty is in deciding which drivers are capable of doing just that. We've got three routes for trying to decide that: practice, current form, and track history. Which data is going to give us the best read on what to expect?
Based on the way things have played out this year, it seems like our most reliable data is going to be leaning on what drivers have done recently. There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, data at Chicagoland is limited. They come here just once a year, meaning that a bad finish in one race is going to make a driver look like he can't handle the track when that could be an erroneous conclusion.
Second, we haven't seen drivers race in this package in Chicagoland yet. It's going to be a different race than we've seen in the past, meaning track history data is tainted.
Practice data is also at risk of being influenced by the draft, making it a bit more unreliable. Drafting won't be as prevalent in Chicagoland as it was in Michigan a few weeks ago, but it could still give a driver a solid single-lap boost that will make him appear faster than he truly was.
We can look at 10-lap averages here as we will likely get that data from both Saturday sessions. Those numbers would be helpful as it would be less subject to the variance of getting a good run over one lap.
But overall, current form is going to be our best indicator of what to expect on Sunday. As such, if a driver is starting further back but doesn't have good track history or elite practice times, we can still target them in DFS as long as they've been posting good finishes recently. That should carry more weight for us than the other categories, even if it's valuable to at least have those numbers at our disposal.
As far as which current form will matter most, look closely at the races mentioned above: Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, and Charlotte. Those are the four races at 1.5-mile tracks in this package, and they'll give us the best indicators on who's expected to compete. Kansas and Las Vegas have the most similar banking to Chicagoland, making them our top points of reference entering the weekend.
If you identify someone with really solid current form who is starting in the middle or the back of the pack, they're going to be a cash-game building block and someone you can lean on heavily. But if those drivers simply aren't available, it's okay to climb a bit higher in the order, even with this rules package (successfully) encouraging passing.
As much was we talk about place-differential points and leading laps, finishing points are still going to represent the grand majority of the scoring in DFS on FanDuel. This is -- at least this weekend -- why we can't target drivers starting at the back simply because they happen to be back there. The other races using this package have shown us that we can use drivers closer to the front if we believe they'll push for a good finish, lending us a degree of freedom we don't always have.
Because of this, it'll be wise to take a few seconds this weekend to go back and look at what has happened thus far in 2019. If a driver starting at the front has struggled to compete on the 1.5-mile tracks, it'll be wise to proceed with caution. But if that driver has shown speed and posted quality outings, they can be in play for DFS almost no matter where they may start. Hunt for place-differential points first, but if they're not available, it's definitely acceptable to roll the dice on drivers starting at the front.