Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: 500

Talladega is a pack-racing track like Daytona, but the two venues have some key differences. How should those differences impact our strategy for NASCAR DFS?

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 cranks up the speed for the 500 in Talladega. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.

Track Overview

Back in July, we saw a wild race in Daytona. Justin Haley -- who isn't even a full-time driver in the Cup Series -- got a win at NASCAR's most iconic track thanks to a rain-shortened event. Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Matt Tifft, Landon Cassill, and J.J. Yeley all finished 12th or better in what had to be one of the strangest finishing orders in the history of the sport.

This Sunday will be the first race at a pack-racing track since then, and it'd be easy to carry the hype over from the Daytona race and think we'll see another Cinderella story this time around.

But Daytona and Talladega aren't as similar as you may think, and the differences should impact the way we view this race from a daily fantasy perspective.

Daytona is a big at 2.5 miles, but it's also narrow. Handling matters, especially in the July warmth, and it can lead to a bunch of accidents.

Those wrecks happen in Talladega, too, but they're a bit less suffocating. Talladega is wider, and especially with this race being in October, the surface will be cooler. Handling will still matter, but it'll be less of an emphasis than it was in Daytona.

We can see this split by looking back at recent races at the two tracks. FanDuel has been offering contests for each of the past three races at both Daytona and Talladega. The table below shows the correlation in those races between each driver's starting spot and their finishing position along with their FanDuel salary and their finishing position.

Track Start to Finish Finish to FD Salary
Daytona -0.073 0.128
Talladega 0.327 -0.310

Things at Daytona are effectively random. At Talladega, drivers who start near the front are -- to a certain extent -- more likely to finish there, and a higher salary is generally tied to a better finish. It's still unpredictable, but it's not nearly as erratic as a race in Daytona.

That's a pretty key point given what our ideal strategy is for Talladega. With just 188 laps scheduled, leaving 18.8 FanDuel points for laps led, the highest-upside plays will be the ones that start further back and can scoop place-differential points.

In Daytona, it's not hard to find plays to fit this process because even cars that are slow in qualifying have the ability crank out a good finish. But -- based on the above -- that seems to be a bit more difficult in Talladega. So, should we still be stacking the back?

The answer there is a resounding yes... if possible. Let's dig more into that next and then discuss other strategies for Sunday's race.

Strategies and Roster Construction

Over the past five Talladega races, 10 drivers have scored more than 65 FanDuel points. Three of them started 30th or lower, and two others started outside the top 25. The upsides of finding a driver who starts back there and finishes well are huge.

That doesn't mean we should flat out ignore drivers starting near the front. This spring's race did have a couple of those gems in the back, but it also had three drivers who started in the top 11 who cracked the perfect lineup.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Joey Logano $13,500 8th 37
Chase Elliott $12,000 11th 45
Alex Bowman $7,500 9th 7
Ryan Preece $6,000 30th 0
Brendan Gaughan $5,000 29th 5

We saw something similar in last year's spring race, though that one skewed even more toward the front.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Joey Logano $12,000 9th 70
Chase Elliott $10,600 5th 0
Kurt Busch $10,400 2nd 5
Aric Almirola $8,800 40th 0
David Ragan $8,100 12th 0

So, if the optimal strategy is to target drivers starting further back, but that doesn't show up in perfect lineups, how should we play things this weekend?

There are two important strategies here that will help mold our rosters. First, play the "assumption game" and pick the driver you think will win the race. Second, accept place-differential upside when presented to you.

The assumption game is likely a term you're familiar with if you've read this piece often because it's a key part of our strategy for shorter races. Even though our ideal build is to target drivers starting further back, the driver who wins the race is going to pay off for fantasy no matter where they start. Chase Elliott won this year's spring race, and Joey Logano won last year, and as you can see, both made the perfect lineup despite starting in the top 11.

As such, for every tournament lineup you fill out, you should have a driver in there you are assuming will win the race. This driver can start the race anywhere in the field; as long as they have the ability to win, they're a viable play.

After that, you move to our second point: accept place-differential upside when presented to you. The odds are decent that some drivers with fast cars will -- for one reason or another -- start Sunday's race a bit deeper in the pack. If that happens, their DFS potential is going to be really solid.

The high-variance nature of pack racing means that these drivers starting further back aren't guaranteed to pay off, so it's important not to get overexposed to any driver if multi-entering for tournaments. But when they do finish well, the rewards are huge.

We saw this play out back in last year's fall race. Here's the perfect lineup from that one.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Joey Logano $12,500 20th 0
Aric Almirola $9,900 4th 1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $9,700 12th 0
Paul Menard $8,800 30th 0
A.J. Allmendinger $6,800 23rd 1

Aric Almirola won that race, and the other four drivers all started 12th or lower with three coming from 20th or lower. If Almirola had been our assumed winner, we likely would have been on the right path toward a slick lineup.

Clearly, though, this isn't always the way things will play out, as we saw in the last two spring races. But if we do have quality drivers starting further back, this should be our default roster build.

One exception we can make to this type of build is when we are stacking teams. Stacking isn't a term you'll see often in NASCAR DFS, but it's very much in play at pack-racing tracks.

At Daytona and Talladega, teams and manufacturers will often work together, linking up and drafting with each other to keep the competition at bay. These drafts can go down the drain on the final lap where it's every driver for themselves, but that doesn't stop the fruits of stacking from popping up in the data.

Here are the teams for which the top three drivers have driven in each of the past seven races between Daytona and Talladega.

Race Winner Second Third
Daytona Summer Spire Hendrick Hendrick
Talladega Spring Hendrick Hendrick JTG-Daugherty
Daytona Winter Gibbs Gibbs Gibbs
Talladega Fall Stewart-Haas Stewart-Haas Roush-Fenway
Daytona Summer Gibbs Furniture Row JTG-Daugherty
Talladega Spring Penske Stewart-Haas Hendrick
Daytona Winter Childress Petty Gibbs

The past four pack-racing races have had multiple drivers from the same team finish in the top three, and Joe Gibbs Racing swept the podium in the Daytona 500. That makes stacking look pretty attractive.

But it looks even better once you note that Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports are technically aligned, and they had the top two spots in last year's Daytona 500. Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing had an alliance last year when Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. had the top two spots in the summer Daytona race. They weren't teammates, but it would be logical for those drivers to work together in a race like this.

This makes a knowledge of teams and manufacturers pretty key for building lineups. This Wikipedia article has a list of the manufacturers for the 36 teams guaranteed an entry each week and which manufacturer they are tied to. It does not, however, list technical alliances, so it's helpful to note that -- outside of the RCR/RPM tie mentioned above -- Paul Menard has heavy ties to Penske Racing, and Matt DiBenedetto's team works alongside JGR. But overall, stacking teams and manufacturers is a strategy we should be looking to roll out this weekend.

This is also something we should keep in mind when looking at practice data on Friday. Largely, practice data is going to be fluky for pack-racing tracks. But if we see a trend where a certain team or manufacturer is consistently lighting it up, we may want to give them a bump in our minds for Sunday. This would be especially true if a driver in that grouping were to slide in qualifying, allowing us to dabble in that team while still siding with the "stack-the-back" strategy.

Basically, we have three things we want to keep in mind while building tournament lineups.

First, pick an assumed winner. That person will score well no matter where they start.

Second, try to find drivers starting further back who have big finishing upside. We don't need to be as drastic about it as we do at Daytona, but the highest-upside plays will still be the ones who start further back and log good finishes.

Third, be willing to stack teams and manufacturers within lineups. Alliances will be made this weekend, and if we can correctly guess which teams will work best together, it'll position us well to nail a couple drivers who wind up fighting for the win.

Talladega is a high-variance track, and things are going to get weird at some point this weekend. But if we do those three things, we can exploit that volatility. It could still wind up breaking in some way we didn't imagine, but this has been a successful blueprint in the past at Talladega, and we should be looking to lean on it again this weekend.