Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Gander RV 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 Pocono for the second time in two months for the Gander RV 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Whenever the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has run its full new reduced-horsepower package this year, the returns have been glowing. Passing has been up, and the action has been steady in the middle of the pack.

Pocono in June was the one exception. There, the racing largely stagnant, even on a track that has a straightaway that stretches a full mile, something you would think would be conducive to drafting.

They're heading back to Pocono for the second time on Sunday, and the first race here will have an impact on how we build our rosters in daily fantasy.

First, it's important to show evidence that passing was down and not just go based on anecdotes. The table below shows how many green-flag passes have occurred in the past five Pocono races with the 2019 spring version being the lone one under the current rules package.

Races at Pocono Green-Flag Passes
2019 Spring 2,347
2018 Summer 2,745
2018 Spring 2,373
2017 Summer 2,591
2017 Spring 3,129

There was less passing in Pocono this year than in any of the previous four races, and it was down 13.4% from the average of those four races. It's just one race, but that does tell us that Pocono is at least different than other tracks using the package in 2019.

That matters quite a bit from a DFS perspective. Sunday's race is only 160 laps, leaving 16.0 points for laps led on FanDuel. That's tied for the fewest in a non-road-course race, giving us less upside for drivers starting at the front than we'd have elsewhere.

If passing is difficult, but it's hard to generate upside via laps led, how should we look to build our rosters?

Thankfully, the 2019 spring race was still largely in line with other Pocono races in the past. This means we can expand our sample and look at previous races here to see what the ideal roster construction figures to look like on Sunday.

Let's do that now, digging into both the June race and previous ones at Pocono to decide how we should handle things this weekend.

Roster Construction

Because passing was down in June, it's likely helpful to focus on that specific race first before filtering in previous races here.

In that one, Kyle Busch led almost half the laps (79) and wound up winning the race. That made him a given for the perfect lineup, even starting up in second place. He was not the lone driver to start in the top five and make that list. Here's the perfect FanDuel lineup from June.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Kyle Busch $15,500 2nd 79
Erik Jones $10,200 4th 0
Clint Bowyer $10,700 3rd 2
Chris Buescher $7,000 24th 0
Daniel Hemric $6,600 23rd 3

Erik Jones and Clint Bowyer scored almost all of their points via the finishing-points category, which shows you how little upside there is to be had when passing is low in a short race.

There were only three drivers who started outside the top 10 and got a top-10 finish in that race, and none of them started lower than 16th. The best finish by someone who started in the back half of the field was Kurt Busch, who was 11th after starting 21st. That's what can happen in a race that sets up like Pocono.

That is not to say that we can't find upside plays at the track. There weren't any in that race outside of Busch, but broadly, they can happen. We just need a certain set of circumstances.

Passing is tough here, but it is not impossible if you have a good enough car. Last year's two races showed us that.

In both races, for one reason or another, quality cars were starting a bit further back. And in both, those quality cars were able to work their way forward. Here's the perfect lineup for the spring race.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Martin Truex Jr. $11,200 4th 31
Brad Keselowski $11,000 17th 10
Kyle Larson $10,900 13th 0
Aric Almirola $9,100 34th 0
Paul Menard $7,600 20th 0

And here's the same for the summer.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Kyle Busch $12,500 28th 52
Kevin Harvick $12,500 29th 30
Daniel Suarez $8,500 1st 29
Alex Bowman $8,300 10th 0
William Byron $7,400 38th 10

Both featured multiple drivers starting 20th or worse, and neither had multiple drivers in the top five. But the 2019 race -- the most relevant race in our sample -- was different. How should we reconcile the differences here?

It's likely not as hard as it may seem. You just have to know which cars are strong entering the race.

If all the "strong" cars are starting near the front of the pack, then passing will be difficult. There won't likely be many crashes to artificially push drivers forward, and speed is necessary to crank out a good finish here. So if no fast cars are starting further back, the perfect lineup will likely be filled with cars closer to the front, similar to what we saw in June.

But if there are fast cars further back, the equation changes. As we saw in both of last year's races, those cars are capable of making passes and picking up ground, which will give them more upside than most drivers in the field. If we get drivers who fit that mold, we're going to want them on our rosters.

There's a chance we could get some of them on Sunday. This weekend is an impound race, meaning that pre-race inspection will take place after qualifying. If a driver fails that inspection process once, their qualifying time will be disallowed, and their official starting position will be in the back of the field.

That's what happened in last year's summer race. There, 13 drivers failed post-qualifying inspection and had to start in the back, a group including Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano. There, it was pretty clear that there were quality cars in the back, and three of those 13 cars went on to get top-six finishes (with Busch winning the race).

Accept place-differential upside where you can find it, but don't force it if it's not there.

Although we may get some cars who drop to the back, 13 seems like a pretty big stretch. Crew chiefs seem to have been playing things safe in recent races with just three total drivers failing post-qualifying inspection in the past two impound races. That should be even more true in Pocono with passing being difficult. So while a driver who fails inspection would be a desirable DFS play, we shouldn't assume we'll get a bunch of them on Sunday morning.

It feels like a cop-out to say "use the fast cars", but that actually is the correct strategy for Pocono. If quality drivers present you with place-differential opportunities, take them. With the limited number of laps, the guys starting further back are going to be the ones in the race with the highest upside.

But if the drivers you expect to finish well are all starting upfront, you shouldn't force it and use drivers starting further back just for the sake of doing so. We can do that in Daytona and Talladega, but Pocono isn't quite high-variance enough to justify the all-out type of strategy.

In order to determine which drivers are capable of a respectable finish, we can go back to putting weight in practice times. Because the draft didn't play a big role at Pocono, practice speeds were actually a helpful crutch. The correlation between each driver's single-lap speed in the opening practice and his average running position during the race was 0.805, which is the fourth-highest mark for any practice during the 2019 season. If you're fast in practice, you'll likely be fast in the race.

We can also lean pretty heavily on each driver's performance during the first Pocono race this year in determining who will run well. Not only is it the same track, but it was recent enough where most teams likely haven't seen major shifts in strength since then.

A word of caution there, though, is that you should lean on stats like average running position rather than finishing position in determining which cars were best in the June race. Last year, the correlation between a driver's finishing position in the two Pocono races was 0.194. The correlation between their average running position in the first and their finish in the second, however, was 0.585. We shouldn't avoid Kyle Larson -- who led 35 laps and had a 10th-place average running position in June -- just because he had trouble at the end and finished 26th.

By looking at what happened in June -- and current form more broadly -- along with practice data, we should have a good idea of which cars will finish well on Sunday. That will let us know whether there are viable place-differential candidates starting further back, which will key our strategy from a roster construction perspective.

This will require that you have some time on Sunday during the day to alter lineups in case things change drastically after qualifying Saturday evening. If we get a fast car that fails inspection, you're going to want them on your roster, and we likely won't know whether we'll have that until a few hours before the race. So make sure you're around on Sunday to alter lineups or build them from scratch so that you can take advantage.

Pocono is a track that requires you to be a bit flexible. We can't truly enter with one strategy, deciding to target only a specific portion of the starting order, unless we do get intriguing cars that qualify poorly. This does require a bit extra digging, but that digging should be rewarded handsomely. Find the cars you think will do well and plug them into your lineup no matter where they may start.