Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Coke Zero Sugar 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 back to Daytona for the Coke Zero Sugar 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Because the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes to Daytona twice a year, strategizing for those events in daily fantasy should be pretty simple. Take the plan we used entering the Daytona 500 and just plop it on top of the July edition.

But the Daytona 500 is a unicorn within the Cup Series schedule. Lots of things there operate in a different way than they do the rest of the year, and those differences lead to a split in the way we handle things in DFS.

The biggest difference that directly relates to daily fantasy is that there are fewer laps in the July running. Instead of the 200 circuits in February, they'll complete 160 laps on Saturday night, meaning there are only 16 points available for laps led on FanDuel. Outside of the three road-course events, this is tied for the shortest race of the entire year, based on the number of laps.

Normally when this is the case, we're looking to stack the back, trying to generate upside via place differential. In the February race, that's not too difficult because of the way qualifying goes down.

Outside of the front row, the starting order for the Daytona 500 is set by a pair of qualifying races the Thursday before the race. Because those are actual races, some quality drivers will inevitably run into trouble and finish poorly, giving us obvious outlets when we're hunting for those place-differential points.

We won't have that format this weekend. Instead, the field will do single-car runs on Friday night, meaning -- in theory -- that the fastest cars will start at the front while those in the back may lack the proper speed to compete.

That would seemingly put a wrench in our plan of stacking the back.

The third difference is that the track will be much different on Saturday night than it was in February. Because the temperature in Daytona will likely be much warmer than it was for the 500, the track figures to be slicker. This makes it harder for the cars to maintain grip, which can lead to more single-file racing as the drivers try to make it to the end but also more crashes when they do get racey.

The final noteworthy aspect here is that the cars will be running a different rules package on Saturday than they ran in February. The 500 was the final race to use restrictor plates on the cars. Instead, they'll be running the same package used in Talladega during the fall with a wicker extension on top of the spoilers of the car. In Talladega, this led to cars getting monster runs on each other, creating some thrilling on-track action.

Combine this all together, and it means that -- although both races take place at the same track -- the Daytona 500 is nothing like the Coke Zero Sugar 400. And it means we may have to attack it with a different strategy when filling out lineups.

Thankfully, we can draw from old July races here to get a feel for what we should expect. Those old races will not have the same rules package, but they will be the same length and include the same qualifying procedure. So we're certainly not flying in unaided, and we can also figure out plenty based on the number of laps alone.

Based on past July Daytona races, what's the ideal type of roster construction we should look to roll out for Saturday night's race? Let's dig in more here to find out.

Strategies and Roster Construction

The first thing we'll want to know for Saturday night's race is the viability of finding quality drivers deeper in the pack. If that's not a realistic expectation with single-car qualifying, the rest of our discussion will have to account for that.

As it turns out, the single-car qualifying doesn't change anything. The highest-upside plays will still come from the back of the pack.

Let's look back at the past four July Daytona races. In this four-race span, 33 drivers have scored at least 55 FanDuel points (8.25 per race). Here are the starting ranges of those 33 drivers.

Starting Range Drivers With 55+ FD Points
1st to 5th 3
6th to 10th 1
11th to 15th 5
16th to 20th 2
21st to 25th 6
26th to 30th 6
31st to 35th 8
36th to 40th 2

Even with single-car qualifying being in play, stacking the back has still been the optimal route.

This has been especially true with the highest-end scores in the sample. Six of the eight highest FanDuel totals came from drivers who started 24th or lower; 19 of the top 27 were from drivers who started 22nd or lower. The drivers with the highest possible upside are going to be the ones who qualify poorly, meaning we still want to focus most of our exposure on drivers starting in the second half of the field.

There were some exceptions where drivers scored well after starting at the front with four top-10 starters cracking the 55-point barrier. Three of them won the race, and the other finished second.

This is why we will often talk about playing the "assumption game" at pack-racing tracks like Daytona and Talladega. The driver who wins the race will score a good chunk of points and is likely to be in the perfect lineup. You will want that driver on your team.

As such, in tournaments, you should pick a driver you think will win the race and plug them in your lineup. It doesn't matter where they start; you'll want them in there.

After that, you take advantage of that table above and stack drivers starting in the second half of the field. They have both the best upside and the best floors in the pack (due to the lower potential for negative place-differential points), making them attractive for both cash games and tournaments. This is where your core should lie as you rotate through different assumed winners at the top end.

The assumption game was beneficial during the Daytona 500 back in February. As mentioned, we do need to view all data from those races with an air of skepticism because the qualifying format is different. But the strategy is largely the same. Here's the perfect lineup from the Cup Series' first trip to Daytona this year.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Denny Hamlin $11,200 10th 30
Kyle Busch $10,300 31st 37
Erik Jones $8,800 28th 0
Michael McDowell $6,200 34th 0
Ross Chastain $4,000 36th 0

Denny Hamlin won the race and made the perfect lineup after starting 10th. The rest of the perfect lineup all started 28th or lower. We may not be able to find studs that deep in the order this time around, but in general, this shows how profitable the assumption game can be for tournaments.

Another thing that we can see here is the viability of stacking within individual teams. In case you're new to NASCAR, team owners can field up to four cars in each race, meaning many drivers have teammates on the track with them. These teammates can often work together and crank out good finishes as a result.

In February, it was Joe Gibbs Racing taking the cake with Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones sweeping the top three finishing positions. In the April Talladega race, the Hendrick Motorsports cars of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman finished one-two. Teammates or drivers whose teams are in a technical alliance have swept the top two spots in each of the past four Daytona and Talladega races (Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. finished first and second in last year's July Daytona race, and at the time, Truex's team was in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, though he technically did not drive for that team). Clearly, team stacks are viable.

The same is true for stacking manufacturers. Even if drivers aren't technically teammates, they will often work together in order to bolster their strength in the numbers game. Prior to Talladega, Chevrolet drivers had several meetings to discuss strategies for how to stick together in an attempt to break up the dominance Fords had been showing at the superspeedways in the past. Clearly, it worked with Chevy claiming six of the top eight spots, and we should expect similar strategies Saturday night.

If you're not familiar with who may be working with whom, NASCAR's website has a listing of each driver along with their manufacturer and team. Qualifying results on the website will also readily show each driver's manufacturer, so you can see who is starting near friendly competitors and may have a bit of assistance once the green flag drops.

The team stacks will be especially pertinent when picking your winners for the assumption game. It'll be hard for a lone wolf to win the race without having some sort of push from a teammate or another driver within his manufacturer. As such, once you pick the person you think will win, it might not be a bad idea to pair them with a teammate who may be starting a bit deeper in the pack, hoping that person will be the one who pushes your win pick to victory.

In conclusion, there are absolutely differences between the July and February races in Daytona, and it's important to acknowledge those before building lineups. But it's still not going to change our strategy all that much.

Even with single-car qualifying making the starting order more predictive of the finish, we can still find top-end plays starting deeper in the pack. As with the Daytona 500, this is where we'll want to build our core, stacking the back and searching for upside.

But we also don't want to ignore the front completely. We want the driver who wins the race on our roster, meaning we can use drivers starting at the front as long as we believe they have a legit shot to win. We don't need to play the assumption game in cash games, instead opting to focus on the bottom half of the field there, but in tournaments, this will be the ideal route for building rosters.

Finally, we'll want to consider stacking our winner with other drivers who could hold an alliance with them. This can be either a teammate or someone else who drives for the same manufacturer. Regardless, teamwork tends to win out at Daytona, and we'll want to account for that within our rosters.

If qualifying saps us of quality cars in the back (if qualifying were to be rained out, for example), we'll certainly have to improvise. Finishing points matter a lot, and we don't want to use duds just because they're starting in the back. But history tells us that we should still get good drivers who find themselves at the back of the pack when the night begins. And if they're at the front by the end of the race, they'll be the best plays available. So unless things get wonky this weekend, stacking the back is still going to be our ideal method for building rosters.