Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Quaker State 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 Kentucky for the Quaker State 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

After a week of madness, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is getting back to its bread and butter. It's yet another 1.5-mile track on the docket for Saturday night, and with how wonky Sunday's race was in Daytona, familiarity is a blessed sight.

Saturday's race in Kentucky will be the sixth time this year the Cup Series has run a 1.5-mile track using their full new reduced-horsepower package. A sample of five races isn't all that robust, but we've definitely seen some trends emerge that can help inform our decision-making processes for daily fantasy.

Kentucky will also be the fourth time the series has raced on a 1.5-mile track with moderate banking in which they will run 267 laps. That's 26.7 points for laps led on FanDuel, and seeing how those specific races have played out will also give us a better idea of how to attack the field.

The new rules have done plenty to increase passing, as discussed prior to the Chicago race. This allows drivers to make their way through the pack more quickly, inflating the upside for place differential for drivers who qualify well. But it still hasn't prevented drivers from getting meaningful fantasy points via laps led.

In this three-race sample at tracks similar to Kentucky, five drivers have managed to lead at least 86 laps in a single race, and another led 63. This means that in all three races, multiple drivers have gotten at least 6.3 points for laps led, maxing out at 13.2 for Kevin Harvick in Chicago. Those circuits out front still matter in this pass-happy package.

It's also worth noting that most of these laps led have come from drivers starting near the front of the field. Of those six to lead 63 or more laps, four started in the top five, and all six started in the top 10. Even with the increased passing, these tracks still aren't racing like what we've seen in spots like Daytona and Talladega, and that matters plenty for DFS.

That's not to downplay the value of drivers starting deeper in the pack. Six of the 15 drivers to get a top-five finish in this sample started outside the top 10, including two drivers who finished near the front despite starting outside the top 25. If you get a performance like that, it'll help compensate for the downsides of potentially getting fewer laps led.

The big question from all of this is how we strike that proper balance between gunning for laps led and place-differential points. At most tracks, we'll have a fairly definitive answer to that question, allowing us to have an ideal roster construction entering the weekend. At Kentucky, that may not be the case.

Let's dig deeper into what we've seen so far in races similar to Saturday night's to see what we can learn. The data here may not be overly expansive, but it does still give us an idea of how we should be looking to play things.

Roster Construction

One way to figure out how we should construct rosters is by looking at perfect lineups in races similar to what we have coming this weekend. This will show us what the absolute best lineup would have looked like for those events, which should at least lead us down the right path.

Looking at these lineups can serve a couple of purposes. Not only can it answer the aforementioned conundrum about how we balance laps led versus place differential, but it can also show us how we should look to distribute salary. If punting is more viable on this track type, that's something we'll want to know.

With that in mind, here are the perfect lineups for the three 1.5-mile tracks with moderate banking so far in 2019, starting with Las Vegas.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Joey Logano $13,000 10th 86
Aric Almirola $10,000 25th 0
Kurt Busch $9,600 28th 23
Erik Jones $9,100 18th 0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $7,800 8th 5

Then Kansas.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Chase Elliott $13,200 32nd 45
Brad Keselowski $12,600 4th 12
Kyle Larson $10,500 35th 0
Alex Bowman $8,600 5th 63
Tyler Reddick $3,000 21st 0

And finally Chicago.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Kyle Larson $11,500 14th 7
Alex Bowman $10,500 8th 88
Erik Jones $10,000 21st 1
William Byron $9,000 11th 9
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $8,700 25th 2

Let's go through these one by one.

In Las Vegas, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick were the two drivers to lead the most laps with Logano at 86 and Harvick at 88. But Harvick slipped at the end and finished fourth, putting a dent in his finishing points. As a result, the perfect lineup wound up being more balanced, bypassing Harvick and instead including three drivers who started outside the top 15.

Kansas was an impound race, putting quality drivers at the back of the field. As you can see, investing in those drivers was wise as both Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson made the perfect lineup after starting in the back. But the top two finishers in Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman also made the perfect lineup thanks to quality outputs in the finishing-point department. Tyler Reddick was a pure punt play, but he was a bit of an odd case as he was in respectable equipment at Richard Childress Racing for a one-off event.

Finally, in Chicago, Harvick again led the most laps (132 this time) but failed to crack the perfect lineup. He finished 14th, which wasn't enough to make it, even with a hefty 13.2 points for running out front. Instead, the lineup was again balanced, featuring no drivers with a salary lower than $8,700.

Clearly, all three races were unique, so it's hard to paint this with a broad brush. But we can get some pretty concrete takeaways from looking at them.

First, even though there are a good number of points available for lap-leaders, that does not necessarily mean you must roster both cars that dominate the race in order to have a great lineup. None of the perfect lineups had multiple drivers who led more than 45 laps, and that's even with two drivers topping 60 laps led in all three races. In order to score well while leading laps, you also have to finish well, and in this package, those two haven't necessarily gone hand-in-hand.

Kentucky could very well buck this trend. Just because we haven't yet seen two drivers pair laps out front with a good finish doesn't mean that it's impossible. It's far from that. It's moreso to say that you don't have to feel locked into targeting two lap-leaders for each lineup.

Forgoing a second potential lap-leader partly brings us to our second key takeaway: balanced rosters are fairly attractive. Of the 15 drivers to make a perfect lineup in these three races, 10 had a salary between $7,500 and $10,500, which counts as being the mid-tier through the palatable value plays. Place-differential points will be higher for those starting way in the back, but getting a good finish is still pretty crucial. The punt plays we'd target don't tend to carry that finishing upside, which makes it harder for lineups containing them to wind up being the ideal build.

The third takeaway is one that is quite freeing: drivers can score fantasy points from anywhere in the pack, meaning we don't necessarily have to enter Saturday night with a fixed strategy in mind. Instead, we can take what qualifying gives us and go from there.

In our three-race sample, 11 drivers have scored at least 70 FanDuel points. Three started in the top five, three started in the teens, and three started outside the top 25. As long as your car is fast enough, you can put up a good score from anywhere in the pack.

In Chicago, Logano started back in 19th and didn't lead a single lap. Normally, that would lead to an unsatisfactory day because he wasn't deep enough in the field to get a ton of place-differential points, nor did he generate upside by running up front. But because Logano finished third, he still scored 72.7 FanDuel points, the third-highest total in the race.

What this allows us to do is scour the driver pool, looking for drivers who may have better finishing upside than their salary would indicate. If we can find someone who is a bit underpriced and can crank out a good finish, it doesn't matter all that much where they start. That gives us flexibility and means we should be able to fill out satisfactory lineups no matter how qualifying shakes out.

The fourth and final takeaway is one that is relevant to this weekend: drivers starting way in the back will be fantasy gold. As mentioned, Kansas was an impound race where inspection took place after qualifying. Good drivers failed inspection and started in the back, and two of them made the perfect lineup.

Because the package is so conducive to passing in the middle of the pack, fast cars that start in the back shouldn't have any problem working their way forward in a hurry. This means starting in the back will not limit a driver's finishing-point upside as long as their car is fast enough. If someone finishes in the top 10 after failing post-qualifying inspection, they are almost a lock to wind up in the perfect lineup.

This Saturday will once again give us chances to find drivers with that potential.

If a driver fails inspection Saturday afternoon, their qualifying time will be disallowed, and their official starting position will be behind all cars that do pass inspection on the first try.

As a result of this, you'll likely want to carve out time Saturday afternoon or evening to either fill out lineups from scratch or alter them to account for the news. It's possible Kentucky will be like Chicagoland where only one driver failed inspection, but if there are more, and your lineups don't account for it, they will not be fully optimized to rack up points.

That's what we can take away from the perfect lineups in similar races. Finding drivers in the back who can be quality plays isn't all that difficult, so the fourth point should be fairly straightforward. But in the third point, we discussed how good plays can come from higher in the order, as well, and identifying them may not be as easy. This is where we'll want to lean heavily on current form.

Practice data definitely matters as it shows which drivers are fast on that given weekend. But the draft will also play a role there, and that can taint the numbers that we see from cars in those sessions. It's not bad data, but it's far from perfect.

The same is largely true with track history data. It certainly doesn't hurt to find drivers who have excelled at Kentucky in the past, but this is the first race here in a radically different package. As a result, we should expect different drivers to run out front. Track history shouldn't serve as a stand-alone reason to either target or fade a driver for this weekend.

Current form should broadly include all recent races, but we'll specifically want to zero in on the races discussed above: Las Vegas, Kansas, and Chicago. All three are similar tracks to Kentucky with more moderate banking, making them better indicators of what to expect than the higher-banked 1.5-mile tracks in Texas and Charlotte.

Within those three races, we'll want to put an extra bit of weight on Kansas and Chicago. Las Vegas isn't a bad race to look at, but certain teams (specifically the Chevrolet teams) have made major changes since then. Most of those changes should be accounted for in the more recent events. So if you want to know who's likely to contend this weekend, go back and look over the races at Kansas and Chicago, see which drivers were fast, and consider going right back to them again in Kentucky.

It feels reductive to narrow a strategy down to saying "target the good drivers," but that has been the most fruitful path at similar tracks in 2019. Unless we get a handful of competitive cars that fail inspection, there's not going to be one set of drivers you absolutely must target on Saturday night. So, check out the results of qualifying (after inspection has taken place), and find drivers you think will finish well. If they're starting in the back, that's great, and you should go hard at those drivers for both cash games and tournaments. But even if those gems aren't available, this package has shown that cars can still pump out a quality day for DFS even starting a bit higher in the order, giving us the freedom to just be simplistic and target the drivers we think are most likely to succeed.