Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Bluegreen Vacations 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 decides which four drivers will vie for the championship with the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
Sunday's race is fixing to be a fun one. With Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick already locked into next weekend's championship race, there are six drivers battling for only two spots. Right now, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are positioned to advance, but there is still a lot to be sorted out this weekend.
|Driver||Points From Cutoff|
With a 20-point cushion between Busch, Logano, and the field, those two look pretty safe at first glance. That is not the case.
If one of the four drivers currently on the outside looking in were to win Sunday's race, they'd automatically advance to the next round. All four have had recent success at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, so that's definitely within the range of outcomes. And if one of them wins, then Busch and Logano have to duke it out for the lone spot on points, and only two points separate them entering the weekend.
This means that we need to assume Busch and Logano will emphasize stage points on Sunday. At a track like this, it's not a lock to matter, but it did come into play last Sunday in Texas.
There, a caution came out just a couple of laps before the end of the first stage. Rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to pit, Harvick and Kyle Larson decided to stay out in order to pick up stage points. They then restarted deep in the pack for the start of stage two, and they were stuck back in traffic for a while. Harvick eventually jumped back up and won the race, but passing has been nearly impossible on tracks like Phoenix in 2019 (more on that in a bit).
As a result, we probably need to view Busch and Logano as being a tad more erratic than other drivers in the field. They're going to be racing for points, which could hurt them in the finishing order, and that's the only thing that matters from a DFS perspective. We don't need to avoid them completely as the cautions may not align in a way that negatively impacts drivers emphasizing stage points, but it's something to keep in mind.
There is a slight element of that with Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney, as well. If one of Busch or Logano were to have problems early in the race, it'd put advancing based on points on the table for those three drivers. As such, stage points could still wind up being an emphasis for them, so they also carry a tiny amount of extra volatility.
Chase Elliott is far enough out where it's win or go home, meaning he'll be focusing exclusively on the finish. Stage points are irrelevant for him, Harvick, Truex, and the rest of the field, so it's largely just the other five who are noteworthy from a points perspective.
That should be an element in our process because it will influence the way drivers attack the race. Outside of that, though, we've gotten a pretty good idea of how to build rosters at tracks like Phoenix where passes are at a premium. Let's get into that now.
Roster Construction and Strategies
A helpful element for Phoenix is that we just saw a race somewhat similar to this two weeks ago in Martinsville. We've game-planned for a spot like this recently, and things played out pretty much as expected there, meaning we can just run back a similar strategy this weekend.
What we discussed prior to Martinsville was putting a heavy emphasis on getting two studs at the front capable of leading laps. With how difficult it has been to pass at these short, flat tracks in 2019, drivers who get out front are likely stay there for a while. Then Truex proceeded to lead 464 of 500 laps, fully validating that approach.
Martinsville continued a trend where the two drivers who led the most laps both started within the first four rows. Here's the starting spot of those drivers for each of the races at short, flat tracks this year.
|Starting Position of Lap-Leaders||Led Most Laps||Led Second Most Laps|
In all six races, the driver who led the most laps started in the top five, and only one driver was among those to lead a bunch of laps after starting outside the top eight. This was true in the first Phoenix race, as well.
That Phoenix race is a key one because it's markedly shorter than the two in Martinsville, and it's shorter than the two in Richmond, as well. There are only 312 laps scheduled for this weekend's race, leaving 31.2 FanDuel points for laps led, compared to the 50.0 in Martinsville and 40.0 in Richmond. Even with that being true, the perfect lineup from this spring's Phoenix race deployed a similar strategy to the one we discussed in Martinsville.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Start||Laps Led|
Busch and Blaney were the two to lead the most laps, both started in the top five, and both wound up in the perfect lineup. It's exactly how you'd think things would play out based on the distribution of laps led.
This is a long enough race where we should emphasize scooping laps led, and if we want to get those laps led, we need to look at the front of the pack. That's how we should be building lineups with the stud drivers, unless there is a mid-range or value play (like Blaney this spring) who is capable of leading laps. That would allow us to target a stud (like Larson) starting a bit further back.
The rest of the perfect lineup above may be a bit confusing. If it's so hard to pass on this track type, then why are drivers doing well despite starting further back?
It's mostly because the difficulties in passing become more apparent the higher you get in the running order. When Larson started 31st in Phoenix, it was clear that some of the drivers immediately in front of him weren't in his tier from a speed perspective. In those scenarios, you can make passes, and those drivers will make up spots quickly.
It's once you get a bit higher up that the ills of this rules package start to really show up. By the time the drivers get to that point the order, depending on where they start, they could have already racked up enough place-differential points to pay off in DFS.
The other thing to consider is that these are long races with plenty of pit stops and other factors to push drivers up in the running order. If crew chiefs can take two tires instead of four during a pit stop and gain spots that way, then it doesn't matter how tough it is to pass. You can manufacture those spots on the track and finish better than you started without (in theory) passing a single car under green-flag conditions.
Phoenix will likely involve some crashes and cautions, pushing drivers up in the order and giving them chances to differentiate their strategy from the pack. Because of this, we should be trying to find mid-tier and value plays starting in the middle of the pack or deeper who are capable of getting a good finish.
Because we're so deep in the year, we have a good idea of which drivers tend to perform best at these short, flat tracks. We can use that data to help us decide which of those drivers starting in the middle of the pack or lower are capable of moving up in the order.
During the playoffs alone, we've had races at Martinsville and Richmond, both of which fit into the "short and flat" category. Richmond, specifically, bears plenty of resemblance to Phoenix, meaning we should take a long look there at which drivers performed the best and expect a similar performance on Sunday. Other races earlier in the year are in play, but the recency of the Richmond and Martinsville playoff races is desirable.
You can couple this with the 10-lap averages from Friday's practice sessions to determine which drivers have the most speed for the race. If any of them are starting further back and don't limit your ability to squeeze in lap-leading studs, great. You should target those drivers. But you will want to make sure the drivers starting in the back have a speed edge, or else they may find it difficult to work their way through traffic.
If you see a driver back there you like but who carries a bit of an elevated price tag, then punting is certainly in play. Phoenix is not an equipment-heavy track, meaning there will be cheap drivers who finish well enough to pay off. You'll still want to emphasize the data mentioned before, but we shouldn't be afraid of using ultra-cheap drivers if it gives us access to extra upside elsewhere.
All in all, it's a pretty straightforward week. We want to get two studs who can lead a bunch of laps, and we want to pair them with drivers with place-differential upside starting further back. We can pick out the drivers who fit into those two categories by looking at recent races at flat short tracks along with practice times, and we can punt if need be. That's been a successful plan of attack previously at tracks like this, and it makes sense anecdotally, meaning we should expect it to bear fruit again on Sunday.