Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Pennzoil 400
Going into last year, we had no idea what to expect from the NASCAR Cup Series' new rules package. It was uncharted territory, and any thoughts on what the racing would look like were merely conjecture.
Now, we've got a full year of data under our belts as the series runs it back for a second year on the larger tracks. This is a blessing for daily fantasy.
Instead of making anecdotal claims about the ease of passing on these tracks, we can now check out what happened in 2019 and mold our strategy around that data. And -- lucky for us -- that data gives us a pretty clear outline of how to play things.
As the Cup Series leaves Daytona and begins its West Coast swing, we get back to some semblance of normalcy for this weekend's Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas. What does last year's action tell us about DFS for Sunday's race? Let's check it out.
Roster Construction and Strategies
Last week, we were de-emphasizing laps led for the Daytona 500 because they were hard to predict, and there weren't many to be led.
This week, there will be 267 laps in Las Vegas, which leaves 26.7 FanDuel points for laps led. That's a decent jump. But what's interesting about the new package is that you can still lead laps from a variety of starting positions as long as your car is fast enough.
In 2019, the Cup Series ran 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks using the package that will be in place for this weekend. Those races had different lengths, so for the purposes of this discussion, we're going to adjust them all to be as if they were the 267 laps they'll run on Sunday. So, when Martin Truex Jr. led 116 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600, we'll adjust that down to be 77 laps led, an equivalent percentage of laps led if the race had been just 267 laps.
After making this adjustment, we are left with 12 drivers in 10 races who led 70 or more laps at a track similar to Las Vegas. A lot of them did start up front, including three pole-sitters who hit that mark. But two started outside the top 20, and five started 10th or lower.
That can make things frustrating for DFS. If we don't have an ideal starting range for lap-leaders, it may feel like we're throwing darts, trying to identify who will be the "can't-miss" guy for that race. But it's definitely not random.
Each week, I have a model set up for NASCAR that ranks drivers based on their practice times, current form, and (to a lesser extent) track history. Of those 12 drivers who led at least 70 adjusted laps, eight were either first or second in the model entering the race, and 10 were in the top four. The lowest-ranking driver to hit that mark was eighth.
This isn't because the model is particularly good or anything. It just shows that if you account for the three factors mentioned above, you're going to have a good idea of which cars will be strongest in the race, and those are the drivers who will threaten to lead laps, even if they're not starting right at the front.
The whole point of rolling out this new package was to make passing easier at the 1.5-mile tracks and to keep the cars bunched more closely together. Both of those factors are things that allow drivers starting further back to make up time, get to the front, and lead laps. In that sense, the new package was a rousing success at places like Las Vegas.
It may sound unfulfilling or unactionable to say, "Use the best drivers," but that's actually the way things played out on these track types last year. If the driver you think is best is starting further back, plug them in, soak up that place-differential, and maybe pick up some laps led later on. If they're starting up front, that's also fully acceptable as long as they have the upside to lead the field.
At a lot of tracks this year, we're going to have an ideal starting range we're going to want to target for laps led, and for studs in general. We have a lot more freedom at Las Vegas and tracks like it. That's a good thing for DFS.
When trying to judge which drivers are the "best," we should lean heavily on what practice tells us.
This is the first time we've seen drivers with their new teams, and the Chevrolet teams all have new bodies to work with, as well. That puts a slight stain on all data from 2019 and earlier.
We can still look at what drivers have done previously, to be sure. In last year's Las Vegas race -- then the third race of the year -- the current form segment of my model was still the part that correlated best to each driver's average running position. We don't need to toss all that data out by any means. But practice will give us the best read on whom we should expect to be fast.
We'll also have better data for that this year than we had for parts of last year. In August, NASCAR's web site started publishing each driver's consecutive lap averages in five-lap intervals for practice. So, you could see who was the best over five consecutive laps, 10 consecutive laps, and on and on. This helps weed out mock qualifying runs and gives us a better idea of who will be fast when it matters.
The best data to use for DFS is the largest interval you can find where a majority of the relevant drivers are present. If a good chunk of the field made a 15-lap run, then use that. That usually won't be the case, though, and you'll often have to settle for five-lap averages in order to get a glimpse at the field's biggest players. Even that, though, will be hyper valuable in determining which cars have the ability to zip through the field and run out front.
That's how you want to handle the studs: find those you think are fastest and plug them in, no matter where they're starting. We've also got a good amount of freedom from the cheaper drivers, though they do tend to skew toward the middle of the pack.
In the 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks with this package, 25 drivers made a perfect FanDuel lineup with a salary below $10,000. Here's where those drivers started the race.
|Starting Range||Cheap Drivers in Perfects|
|1st to 5th||3|
|6th to 10th||4|
|11th to 15th||2|
|16th to 20th||3|
|21st to 25th||8|
|26th to 30th||4|
|31st to 35th||1|
|36th to 40th||0|
Truthfully, the values came from all over the map. But 16 of the 25 started between 15th and 30th, which is about what you'd expect. Those drivers are fast enough to not be back-markers, but they're also starting deep enough to scoop place-differential points by the end.
We should use this as a justification for actively seeking out mid-range and value drivers in this range who have some giddy-up under the hood. It has worked out in the past, and it's not hard to explain why. This is a good range for us to target.
The table, though, also shows that quality value plays can come from the front as long as they're fast enough. It is worth noting that four of the five drivers who started in the top seven led at least 25 laps, so you need a really fast car to make this work. But it's not out of the question that these drivers will crop up, especially early in the year before salaries can adjust for offseason gains.
Overall, the theme for these 1.5-mile tracks is that you have options for daily fantasy. You don't have to target drivers in any specific range, and you can feel free to go after your favorites no matter where they're starting. It's a freeing feeling, and it's one we should be able to experience whenever the Cup Series visits this track type for the season. And after the madness of Daytona, we'll take whatever level of calm and predictability we can get.