Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Auto Club 400

Auto Club Speedway is one of the faster tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit. How do those high speeds impact strategy for NASCAR DFS?

For the first two races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, we've been able to de-emphasize laps led in daily fantasy.

In Daytona, it was because they were largely random and hard to predict.

In Las Vegas, it was because drivers were capable of making up positions in a hurry and could lead laps from the middle of the pack as long as they were fast enough.

We're going to be flipping things in a big way this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Identifying drivers with the potential to dominate will be the first thing we think about before we fill out a lineup.

Track Overview

The defining characteristics of Auto Club Speedway are that it's big and crazy fast. If you want to compete, you'd better have big-person speed.

It also means that once a fast car gets out front, they're probably there for a reason, and they may not give up that lead any time soon.

Over the past four years in Fontana (where Auto Club Speedway is located), a driver has led at least 110 of the scheduled 200 laps each time. Three of those four went on to win the race, and the other finished second. Those all qualify as being must-have drivers in DFS.

Unlike what we saw leading into Las Vegas, those all-powerful laps led were coming from the front of the starting grid. The four drivers to lead 100 laps all started within the first two rows. Two other drivers led at least 50 laps, and they also came from the front two rows. It's not hard to figure this out anecdotally.

The speed in Fontana is so high that the cream rises to the top in qualifying as much as it does during the race. If you're fast enough to run out front during the race, you're likely going to post a sick lap during qualifying, as well.

This should not be taken to mean that passing is impossible in Fontana. Tire wear is a major factor at the track, and if a team can leverage that via strategy or long-run handling, you can make up spots. It's just to say that the cars capable of going nuts are probably going to flash that same speed when they set the starting order on Saturday.

This is the model we should follow for this weekend. We have to try to identify which of the drivers in the field have the upside to hop out front and lead laps. We should have at least one of those drivers in each lineup so that we can benefit if they are the one who blows up. There's also a decent argument for plopping a second higher-upside guy in there just in case the laps led get divvied up between just two drivers.

If you have reason to think that someone starting further back has the speed to be this stud, you can use them for sure. It's possible to make up ground here. Just double check to make sure the issues that held them back in qualifying won't carry over into the race.

The massive speed at the track will help mold the rest of our strategy, too. It's going to make it hard to find big-time place-differential studs, and it limits the number of drivers who have the ability to get a good enough finish to pay off in DFS.

A Balanced Build

Usually, we're pilfering our mid-range and value plays from around the middle of the pack. That way, they have the ability to get some spots via place-differential, lending us additional wiggle room if they don't get a top-notch finish.

The problem here is that the top-heavy nature of qualifying is as true for the mid-range drivers as it is the studs.

The table below shows where drivers who got top-five and top-10 finishes in the past four Fontana races started the race. There weren't many who came from the back.

Starting Range Top-5s Top-10s
1st to 5th 11 16
6th to 10th 3 10
11th to 15th 2 5
16th to 20th 3 4
21st to 25th 0 2
26th to 30th 0 1
31st to 35th 1 2
36th to 40th 0 0

Finishing points matter a lot on FanDuel, especially in a race where place-differential upside is capped. With the way things have played out in Fontana, those finishing points should be our priority.

When that's the case -- and when it's such a fast track -- our default roster construction is going to be a balanced build. This is true for a couple of reasons.

First, the number of drivers capable of getting a good finish at a track like this is limited. In Daytona, almost anybody in the field can get a top 10. Thus, they're almost all viable. In Fontana, a lot of those cars aren't going to have the necessary juice to keep pace.

Most of the drivers who can't keep pace are going to be the cheaper plays. So if we want a chance to nail down five drivers who all push for a top-10, we need to amp up the salary floor for the cheapest driver in our lineup. It's possible that one of the cheaper plays posts some sweet practice times, in which case we should consider them because practice matters a lot here. But we need to see that speed first before we buy in.

Second, if we target a couple of mid-range plays -- drivers in the $9,000 to $10,000 range -- we're giving ourselves additional swipes at drivers with the ability to get a top-five finish. Those drivers are likely more volatile than their expensive counterparts, but they might have the giddy-up for a quality day. Extra chances at nabbing one of those drivers are valuable.

There will obviously be exceptions to this. The first is that if you think multiple drivers will control the race, it's valuable to jam both in. You would want to still try to keep the salary floor elevated, but a less balanced build is more viable there.

The second exception is if -- for some reason -- a super fast car stalls out in qualifying. In that scenario, we'd still want someone at the front who can lead laps, but we'd also want to take advantage of the place-differential upside of the other stud. That would push us to a more top-heavy build, as well.

But for the most part, Fontana is a great track to play toward a more balanced lineup. Identify one or two drivers who will contend for the win, don't be too willing to punt, and try to pinpoint mid-range drivers with the speed for a top-10. That is different than how we've attacked things during the first two races, but a track with the wicked speed of Fontana requires an altered approach.