Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: South Point 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 starts the first round of the playoffs with the South Point 400 in Las Vegas. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
The regular season may have just started in the NFL, but for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it's officially crunch time. The 16-driver playoffs get underway this weekend in Las Vegas, and things are about to crank up a notch.
If you're new to NASCAR, here's how the playoffs work. There are 10 total races, and the playoffs are broken up into four different rounds. Las Vegas is the first race in the opening round, and then Richmond and the Charlotte Roval will follow.
After those three races, the top 12 drivers will advance to the next round, and the other four drivers' shots at the championship are up in smoke. So the stakes here are pretty high.
Drivers can advance based on points, but you can also automatically advance to the next round by winning a race. This can lead to some serious drama late in races because a win is hyper valuable this time of year.
Although only 16 drivers are still in the playoffs, the field size will remain the same with a maximum of 40 drivers out on the track. They'll still be scored the same in DFS, too, and we shouldn't necessarily avoid them. They'll just have a bit less motivation on their side, and they're clearly not among the sport's elite if they didn't crack the 16-driver field.
So for right now, you can kind of proceed with business as usual from a DFS perspective. Things will change in the cutoff races and later in the postseason, but for now, we can largely treat this as being just another race on the schedule.
It's also a return to the norm as the Cup Series heads back to a 1.5-mile track for the first time in seven races. As the most prominent track type on the schedule, that's an extended absence, and it means we have to reset our minds and focus on things we've learned at those tracks this year.
Sunday's race in Las Vegas will be the seventh this year at a 1.5-mile track using the full new rules package (Atlanta is a 1.5-mile track, but they had a modified package there). This means we have six races we can look at in order to get an idea of how things will play out on Sunday.
Because these races are different lengths -- and lap totals matter a ton in FanDuel's scoring rules -- we have to adjust before we can analyze that data. As such, all laps-run and laps-led totals were adjusted to fit as if the race were 267 laps, which is the scheduled length for Sunday's race.
Once we do that, we see that leading a ton of laps in this package has been fairly difficult. Only two drivers have led more than 90 laps in a single race. In both those instances, the driver who did run out front a bunch wound up finishing outside the top 10. If NASCAR wanted more parity, it seems to have achieved its goal.
In total, 12 drivers have led at least 50 laps in this package, which amounts to two per race. That's five points on FanDuel, which is at least a noteworthy number. So we shouldn't ignore laps led.
The complicating factor is that it's harder to predict who it will be to lead those laps. Of the 12 drivers to lead 50 or more laps, five started 10th or lower, and another started in eighth. You can't limit yourself to just drivers starting in the top five when trying to pinpoint who will lead laps.
The ability to lead laps from further back is another mark showing that NASCAR has made passing easier on these tracks than it used to be. In theory, that would push us to target drivers starting further back, hoping to soak up some place-differential points. And that line of thought has been fully valid thus far.
To illustrate this, let's dig a bit deeper into those six races to see what trends emerge. Then, we'll use that data to formulate an ideal roster construction for Sunday's race -- if there is one, that is.
Roster Construction and Strategies
In our six-race sample, 22 drivers have scored at least 70 FanDuel points (again, after adjusting the lap totals to be 267 laps). Those performances have come from pretty much anywhere in the field.
|Starting Range||Drivers to Top 70 FanDuel Points|
|1st to 5th||5|
|6th to 10th||4|
|11th to 15th||4|
|16th to 20th||3|
|21st to 25th||2|
|26th to 30th||1|
|31st to 35th||3|
|36th to 40th||0|
Three of the performances (the ones from drivers starting 31st to 35th) came from drivers who failed post-qualifying inspection, and that won't be a factor this weekend with inspection taking place before qualifying. But the fact that those drivers were all able to grind out top-10 finishes (Chase Elliott even led 45 laps from 32nd) also tells you plenty.
Passing has, in fact, been easier in this package, and it means that drivers starting further back can push for wins. This is not true at every track, and it should influence our decision-making for DFS.
One thing to keep in mind here is that NASCAR's qualifying system is not the same now as it was at the beginning of the season. The sport moved back to single-car qualifying in May, meaning -- in theory -- that the faster cars should start at the front more often with less variance in how the order is set.
Since that change, we've had two races at 1.5-mile tracks in which no relevant drivers failed post-qualifying inspection (the format we'll see this weekend). Here's what the perfect lineup looked like at Charlotte, the first race to fit this criteria.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Start||Laps Led|
|Martin Truex Jr.||$13,500||14th||116|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||$8,100||9th||0|
And here's the second, which was in Chicago.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Start||Laps Led|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||$8,700||25th||2|
Neither lineup had more than two drivers who started in the top 10, and both had multiple drivers who started outside the top 20. So even with a more predictive qualifying format, you could still find quality drivers further back.
That's not to say that we should go with a full-on Daytona-esque strategy where we indiscriminately select drivers starting further back. In the race at Kentucky, you did have two drivers start outside the top 20 make the perfect lineup, but there were also three who started in the top 10. All three led at least 40 laps, which is equivalent to eight spots in place-differential points, explaining how this happened. Drivers can score well from the front. But we should actively be looking for drivers starting further back who can work their way forward.
Basically, what we're saying here is that you have the freedom to target a driver who you think is fast no matter where they're starting the race. That's superbly freeing from a strategy perspective.
We don't have to enter Sunday's race searching exclusively for drivers starting in certain ranges. If a driver you liked entering the weekend is starting 13th, you can still use them. Laps led and a good finish are very much within their range of outcomes, so any starting range can bear fruit.
Just target drivers you expect to finish well, regardless of where they're starting. You should be looking most at the drivers who are starting further back, but overall, you can go at anybody you think will run well.
In order to identify which drivers will do that, we should lean heavily on current form rather than track history and practice data.
Each week, I create a model for the race, trying to predict where certain drivers will finish. That model can be an aggregate of all data, or I can split it into current form, practice data, and track history. This way, I can back-test and see which segment was the better predictor of speed at each race.
At the six previous races on 1.5-mile tracks with this full package, current form has been the best segment of the model five times. The lone exception was in Kansas, where practice times had a slight edge. Track history has ranked last in four of the six races, and practice was worst in the other two.
Thankfully, there is some overlap between current form and track history this week as the series has been to Las Vegas once in 2019. That means each driver was with their current team for that race, giving us a good idea of who should run well on Sunday.
The slight word of caution there is that things change steadily within the season, as well, and those gains or losses will not be apparent in the first Vegas race.
One way to combat that is to use Racing Reference's fantasy tool to look at overall performance on 1.5-mile tracks in this package this year. There, we've got a six-race sample to draw from, and the Chicago and Kentucky races should be recent enough to illustrate which drivers have made gains of late. You'll always want to be wary of finishing positions -- average running positions will give you better measures of success -- but this should give us a fairly dependable idea of who has run best on this track type.
As mentioned above, practice data is also better than track history. With that practice data, though, you'll want to lean on lap averages rather than single-lap runs.
In Friday's practices, drivers will be on differing strategies. Some will make mock qualifying runs while others will work strictly on their race setups. If you look at 5- and 10-lap averages, you're filtering out the drivers on qualifying runs, which will give us a better idea of who will be fast once the green flag drops.
You can get all this data from NASCAR.com's Race Center. They'll have sortable data at increments of five for the lap averages, meaning you can take whichever sample gives you most of the relevant drivers. If you get 25 to 30 drivers who make 10-lap runs, then that data will likely be your best outlet. But if that number is closer to 15, then the five-lap averages are totally acceptable, as well.
Once you've looked at the practice data and analyzed current form, then you can determine your strategy for the weekend. If drivers you project to finish well are starting further back, they're going to have tremendous upside for the race. But if qualifying winds up putting all the fastest drivers at the front, it's okay to snag a couple drivers up there and aim to get some laps led before dropping back for your value plays. You've got freedom in DFS for this weekend, so don't feel as if you are funneled into one strategy or another.