Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: AAA Texas 500
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 heads to Texas for the second time this year for the AAA Texas 500. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
We've got just three races left in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and two of them are set to take place on 1.5-mile tracks. The first is this week in Texas, and then we'll run it back two weeks later in the championship race at Homestead.
This is the most common track type on the Cup Series schedule, which means we know how to attack them from a daily fantasy perspective. But this week, we get a slight little caveat to change things up a hair.
Instead of running 400 miles, they'll be going a full 500. Even the race lengths are bigger in Texas. And that does make a difference.
In a 400-mile race at a 1.5-mile track, there are 267 laps, leaving 26.7 FanDuel points available for laps led. This weekend, though, they'll run 334 laps, increasing that point total for laps led by 25%. In theory, it would change our approach for DFS. But with the way these races have played out this year, it really doesn't have to.
The most laps any driver has led at a 1.5-mile track this year using the new rules package (excluding Atlanta, which had a modified package) is 153. That was by Denny Hamlin a couple of weeks ago in Kansas. That's 15.3 FanDuel points, which is a pretty big number, and it came in one of the shorter races.
Hamlin led all those laps despite starting all the way back in 23rd. That's super impressive, but it's also not an outlier.
In the eight races similar to this weekend's, five drivers have led at least 100 laps. Three of them started outside the top 10, and two started outside the top 20.
Normally, when we are emphasizing laps led -- which we need to do in a 334-lap race -- we'll target drivers starting closer to the front. They would generally be the guys more likely to run out front for the majority of the race. But in this package, that hasn't been a prerequisite for dominance.
It is worth noting that Texas has higher banking and a different configuration than some of the other tracks on the schedule, which can alter things. But in the first Texas race, Kyle Busch led the most laps after starting 16th. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin led the second- and third-most laps, and they started within the first three rows, but Ryan Blaney also led 45 laps from 13th. At Charlotte, which has a similar layout to Texas, two of the top three lap-leaders started outside the top 10.
What this means is that you can get upside from anywhere as long as the car is fast enough. The increased length of the race shouldn't change this, either; if you can lead 100 laps from 23rd in a shorter race, making the race longer will not curtail those abilities.
That's how you handle the studs. You can pluck 'em from anywhere as long as you think that car can lead laps and win the race. But how do we handle the value plays, and how do we identify who has the speed to compete? Let's get into that to wrap things up.
Roster Construction and Strategy
The spring race in Texas was an interesting one. There, three different drivers made the perfect lineup after starting in the top six spots, and two of them were on the cheaper end of the salary scale.
At tracks where passing is easy, we tend to prefer value plays starting further back. The lineup above would seem to run counter to that.
That could wind up happening again this weekend, but we also want to be sure we don't overvalue the data from that race by itself. Part of the reason this happened is that the higher-end drivers in the race weren't all that expensive. No drivers with a salary higher than Hamlin's at $11,500 finished in the top eight spots, lending itself to more of a balanced lineup.
The other factor is that Jimmie Johnson led 60 laps from the pole. Those six points for laps led are equivalent to six spots in finishing points or 12 spots in place-differential points. If you can find a cheaper play who will lead laps, they're valuable; it's just not a given that it'll happen.
In other words, it sort of seems as if the perfect lineup at the Texas race was an explainable outlier. We can see why it happened, but that doesn't mean it should be our baseline expectation of how things will play out in the future.
When we zoom out and look more broadly at 1.5-mile tracks using this package in 2019, we can see even more clearly that the first Texas race was likely an outlier. In the past six similar races (since NASCAR changed back to single-car qualifying), there have been 29 instances in which a driver with a salary of $10,000 or lower was among the top 10 in FanDuel points for an individual race. Here are the starting ranges of those drivers.
|Starting Range||Top-10 Scorers|
|1st to 5th||3|
|6th to 10th||3|
|11th to 15th||5|
|16th to 20th||4|
|21st to 25th||9|
|26th to 30th||2|
|31st to 35th||3|
|36th to 40th||0|
There have been more drivers who have done this after starting exactly 21st (four) than those who started in the top five. That should tell you that our ideal target range for these mid-range and value plays is closer to the middle of the pack.
More broadly, the range from 17th to 25th has produced 13 of these 29 drivers, representing a fairly sizable chunk. If you see a value play there with good marks on 1.5-mile tracks this year or good speed in practice, their path to a good day seems to have a bit less resistance than what you'll find with other drivers.
We can certainly consider drivers starting higher than that in the order. We just have to ensure they're fast enough to crank out a finish in the top six or so spots. Of the value drivers who ranked among the top 10 in scoring at these tracks after starting inside the top 10, the worst finish among them was eighth, and four of them had top-five finishes. If there's no upside for a top-five finish, then it's likely wise to look elsewhere rather than targeting a mid-range or value play starting near the front.
For drivers starting deeper in the pack, because the place-differential upside is higher, they don't need to finish quite as well. Of the six drivers in our grouping who started outside the top 25, everyone finished in the top 15, but four were outside the top 10. So if a driver has the ability to finish in the top 15 but is starting outside the top 25, then they should at least be a consideration.
As we've discussed previously, the best way to determine if a driver can do that is by putting a heavy emphasis on current form. There have been two races during the playoffs at 1.5-mile tracks -- in Kansas and Las Vegas -- and those will give us a good hint at which teams can compete in this setting. You can also look at all races at 1.5-mile tracks in this package to increase the sample, but the more recent races will help account for teams that have made strides as the season has gone along.
Practice times will also be helpful, specifically focusing on 5- and 10-lap averages available on NASCAR's website. Single-lap speeds will include mock qualifying runs and be more subject to variance, but the longer runs should give us a better hint at who has the preferred equipment that weekend.
That's the data we'll want to lean on both when picking our favorite studs and when determining a projected finishing position for mid-range and value plays. Compare their numbers in their current form and practice data with where the driver is starting the race and decide if that mesh is good enough for you to pull the trigger.
Broadly, we're likely going to wind up favoring drivers who start deeper in the pack because they can still lead laps and win races, and they'll bring some finishing upside to boot. That's always the most desirable scenario.
But with how many laps there are this weekend, we can find upside at the front, too. So take extra time this weekend trying to determine which cars will be the fastest on Sunday. Moreso than at most other tracks, those drivers with that speed will be able to pay off in daily fantasy almost no matter where they start, putting an increased (and welcomed) emphasis on driver and car evaluation rather than needing to target drivers starting in specific ranges.