Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: GoBowling at the Glen
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 Watkins Glen for the GoBowling at the Glen. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
Back in June, when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was in Sonoma, we talked about the importance of place-differential points.
It was a road course with only 90 laps, meaning that the drivers with the biggest upside would be the ones starting further back. And targeting those drivers was a fruitful strategy with three drivers starting 19th or lower making the perfect lineup, including one who started in 32nd.
Sunday in Watkins Glen is another 90-lap road course, leaving only nine points for laps led on FanDuel. In theory, this should push us to utilize a similar strategy, targeting cars starting deeper in the pack in hopes that they'll work their way forward and gain upside not obtainable from other spots in the order.
But Watkins Glen is a different track than Sonoma. It has longer straightaways, making solid equipment more of a prerequisite for success, whereas Sonoma is a road course that races like a short track. This could lead to all the quality cars starting up front, making it harder to find drivers starting low in the order who will crank out a good finish.
To an extent, that has been true. Over the past four races at Watkins Glen, here are the starting ranges for each of the drivers to net a top-five or top-10 finish.
|1st to 5th||11||7|
|6th to 10th||9||5|
|11th to 15th||10||5|
|16th to 20th||5||1|
|21st to 25th||2||1|
|26th to 30th||1||1|
|31st to 35th||1||0|
|36th to 40th||1||0|
Although half of the cars that got top-10 finishes started outside the top 10, not many came from outside the top 20. There were almost as many cars that got top-10s at this year's Sonoma race that started outside the top 20 (3 with another starting 19th) as there were in this 4-race sample at Watkins Glen (5). That's not the only way to measure stuff like this, but it does show that the two tracks are pretty different.
When passing is less abundant, it's obviously going to influence our strategy, especially when that strategy hinges on drivers making their way forward through the pack. As such, we've got to look specifically at past Watkins Glen races to see what we can learn and how we can apply that to strategy for this weekend.
Let's do exactly that now, diving into these past four races at the track to see what has transpired in those runnings. Then, we'll use those findings to crank out a default roster construction for Sunday's race.
Roster Construction and Strategies
The best way to test what an ideal strategy looks like is by seeing what has happened during actual races at this track. The new aero package didn't seem to alter much at Sonoma this year, so what has happened in past races at Watkins Glen should give us a good indication of what we should expect on Sunday.
Because FanDuel was offering contests for last year's race, we can see what the best lineup you could have built would have looked like. Even with the differences in the two tracks, it looks pretty similar to what we saw in Sonoma earlier in the year.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Starting Position||Laps Led|
|Martin Truex Jr.||$12,700||4th||4|
Chase Elliott won the race, and Martin Truex Jr. finished second. Those two were both in the perfect lineup, which makes sense with finishing points representing such a large chunk of the scoring. But the rest of the perfect lineup was all drivers who started outside the top 15.
Kurt Busch is noteworthy there because he was one of two drivers who failed inspection prior to the race, sending him to the back of the field. Even though Busch finished just ninth, the place-differential points gained from starting 36th were enough to put him in the perfect lineup.
We may have similar opportunities this upcoming Sunday. It's another impound race, which means that qualifying will take place on Saturday, but inspection will not take place until Sunday morning. If a driver fails that inspection process, their qualifying time will be nullified, and they will start in the back. They would then have the same upside that Busch had here and be pretty attractive as a DFS option.
The number of drivers who fail is very much an unknown. On Sunday in Pocono, nine drivers failed, giving us plenty of place-differential candidates. But in the two impound races before that, there were just three failed inspections total. Regardless, you'll want to make sure you have time Sunday to edit lineups just in case we do get options dropping to the back.
Our edict for the race goes beyond just those who fail inspection, though. Broadly, we should just look for drivers starting near the back who could finish well as their upside will be higher than that of drivers starting at the front.
Of the 10 highest FanDuel scores within the past four Watkins Glen races, seven came from drivers who started 12th or lower. The three drivers who started higher than that who were in the top 10 in scoring all won the race.
Once you dip a bit lower in FanDuel points, then you run into drivers who started near the front and scored well because they wound up getting top-five finishes. But the highest-upside drivers will be those who start in the back and those who win the race. They're the ones we should seek out most.
This leads to our playing the "assumption game" again in tournaments. If you haven't read about the assumption game before, it's where you pick the driver you think is going to win that particular race and plug them into your lineup. That driver will score well whether they're starting 3rd or 33rd, so starting position matters less for them.
After that, you search for place-differential. As we saw both in last year's perfect lineup and the top scores overall for Watkins Glen, non-winners who score well tend to be those who start further back. As such, if there are drivers who you think are likely to finish better than they're starting, you should be inclined to put them onto your roster.
Ideally, qualifying and inspection will give us plentiful options with quality cars starting further back that we can lean on. If that happens, load up on them and take a similar approach to Sonoma.
But it's also not entirely realistic to expect that. Again, last year's perfect lineup included Truex even though he didn't win or scoop up a ton of place-differential points. Busch and Daniel Suarez were the only drivers in the field who finished more than 10 spots better than where they started, meaning the drivers who were in position to get place-differential points broadly failed to do so. That's within the range of outcomes for this weekend, as well.
This brings us to the same strategy that we used this past weekend in Pocono: search for place-differential upside, but don't force it if it's not there. Finishing points matter a lot in such a short race, and if the drivers starting further back aren't ones who will crank out a good finish, then they're not worth targeting. Finishing points need to be our biggest priority, and if a driver doesn't have the ability to net a top-10 finish, it's hard to justify including them in your lineup.
There are a couple of ways to determine which drivers are capable of doing this. The obvious ones are practice times and track history. But current form is also more important than you may think.
Let's use last year's race at Watkins Glen as an example. Prior to that race, Chase Elliott had never finished better than 13th at Watkins Glen, and he had just two top-10s in five career road-course races. You wouldn't have pegged him as a likely candidate to win. Yet Elliott went out and led 52 of 90 laps en route to his first Cup Series victory.
A look at Elliott's current form leading into that race makes the win less shocking. He was coming off races in New Hampshire in Pocono in which he won a stage in each race, and his average running position was fourth in both, his best marks of the season to that point. He was running out front and pushing for wins. Even if it wasn't on a road course, it still showed that the team had found some extra speed, and that matters when they're turning right, as well.
As such, we shouldn't exclude a driver starting in the back just because they haven't had road-course success in the past. It's preferable that they haven't been terrible on tracks like this, but as long as their current form is reputable, we should expect them to be competitive this weekend, as well.
Opening things up to drivers who may not necessarily excel at road courses should give us additional choices among drivers who qualify poorly who could finish well. That way, even if we don't get multiple drivers who fail post-qualifying inspection, we can still take advantage of the lack of laps in the race.
But if those drivers still aren't there, we'd be wise not to force it. At the end of the day, finishing points will drive the bulk of the scoring, and if the drivers in our lineup can't perform well in that department, we'll be wasting good decisions we may make elsewhere in our player pool.
Combine this all together, and we have a pretty neat and tidy strategy entering Sunday's race.
First, we want to take place-differential points where we can find them. Drivers starting further back will have the best upside in the field, and we want to take advantage of that when we can.
This edict requires us to be around on Sunday morning so that we can see which drivers fail post-qualifying inspection. It may wind up that nobody does, but we don't want to ignore that free upside should it be at our disposal.
Second, we must prioritize finishing points. This may mean using drivers starting closer to the front and ignoring the first line of thought, but we can't roster duds simply because they're starting in the back.
Finally, we should lean on a variety of data when determining which drivers will finish well, and current form should sit high on that list. Past success at road courses is not a prerequisite for success in the future, and we should expect drivers running well now to be at the front on Sunday. As long as we keep these points in mind, we should be able to make proper assessments of the drivers in the field, deploy the optimal strategy, and fill out lineups that will be competitive when the checkered flag falls.