Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

With 325 laps scheduled for Sunday in Atlanta, how do we need to alter our process for NASCAR DFS?

One of the big keys for daily fantasy NASCAR is identifying how one race differs from others in the schedule. This will influence our strategy and alter our lineup building, and if others don't account for those changes, we should at least have some sort of edge.

Atlanta -- the site of this week's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 -- is unique because of that last part of that title. The "500" refers to the number of miles in the race, making this weekend's race one of the longer do-si-dos at a 1.5-mile track this year. There are 325 laps, which plays a key role in our DFS process.

The more laps there are in a race, the heavier the emphasis we need to place on laps led. Each lap led is worth 0.1 points on FanDuel, meaning we've got 32.5 points available for that this weekend. If we don't get them on our rosters, we're digging ourselves out of a massive hole, and that should influence our driver selection.

But as we've seen at the 1.5-mile tracks using this package, we don't always have to look at the front of the pack to get those ever-important points. Let's break that down and discuss strategies for this weekend in Atlanta.

(UPDATE: Practice has been cancelled for this weekend's race, and the race has been moved up to Saturday at 2 pm Eastern.)

Hunt for Speed

Usually, when we're searching for lap-leaders during a race, we're looking for drivers starting at the front. Not only are those drivers fast in qualifying, but they also have easy access to the front-marking laps because they don't have to pass a ton of cars to get there.

Things have been different in the higher-downforce package at 1.5-mile tracks. It's definitely not bad to start up front, but it's no longer a prerequisite for leading laps.

Between 2019 and 2020, we've had 11 races at tracks like this using the new package (Atlanta's race last year had a modified version and won't be included in this tally). In those 11 races, 14 drivers have led at least 25% of the laps, equivalent to 81.25 laps this weekend. Half of them started eighth or lower, and two started outside the top 20. That includes Denny Hamlin, who led more than half of the laps during the playoff race at Kansas after starting 23rd.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the package has made passing easier, so it doesn't take cars all that much effort to weave through traffic and work their way forward.

Second, we've seen different strategies from teams with regards to how they're setting their cars up. Some of the cars that qualify poorly may be geared toward longer runs, allowing their cars to maintain strength in traffic and throughout a tire run. In other words, qualifying poorly is not necessarily an indictment of a team's projected strength during the race.

This does not mean that qualifying at the front has been a bad thing. Of those 14 drivers to lead at least 25% of the laps, half also started the race on the first two rows. Those drivers up front can be impressive during the race, as well. But having some freedom in where we get laps led is always a plus.

If drivers can lead laps from further back in the pack, it gives those drivers multiple sources of upside. Usually, they're going to have just one -- via place-differential points -- which could make them less appealing than drivers starting at the front of the pack. The script has been different with the current rules package.

As a result of this, drivers starting in the middle of the pack have been really solid investments for DFS. We can investigate this by looking at some scoring trends at these races based on where drivers started.

In order to do so, we have to account for the number of laps in each race as that plays a key role in scoring. So, let's adjust each driver's laps run and laps led total to be as if the race had been 325 laps, equivalent to this weekend's race. So, instead of Hamlin receiving credit for leading 153 of 277 laps in Kansas, we'll up that to 180 laps led.

Once we make that adjustment, we get 50 drivers who have scored at least 75 adjusted FanDuel points in these races, or 4.5 per race. Here are the starting ranges of those 50 drivers.

Starting RangeDrivers With 75+ FD Points
1st to 5th10
6th to 10th7
11th to 15th6
16th to 20th9
21st to 25th10
26th to 30th4
31st to 35th3
36th to 40th1

It's certainly not as back-heavy as a place like Daytona or Talladega, but there are a lot of drivers putting up big totals from the middle of the pack. Five of the 10 highest adjusted points totals came from drivers starting outside the top 20. It's a profitable range.

Because of the dual sources of upside for these drivers, we should give a slight bump up to fast drivers who start back there. They'll also have a higher floor because of where they're starting, which is a plus. The range from 16th to 25th has produced a bunch of high-scoring studs, and we'd be wise to recognize that.

We shouldn't ignore the front by any means, especially if the drivers up there are fast in practice. The number of laps in the race reinforces that we need to get lap-leaders on our roster, and if the drivers most likely to do that are starting up front, then we need to plug them in. For cash games, though, the middle of the pack will be attractive if we can find fast studs there.

That's also a good spot to pluck your value plays. Our first race at a 1.5-mile track this season was two races ago in Las Vegas. There, the starting order was set by owner's points because qualifying was rained out, meaning a lot of the expensive drivers were starting up front. It allowed four value plays -- all starting between 19th and 27th -- to make the perfect lineup.

Perfect LineupSalaryStartLaps Led
Joey Logano$13,000 5th54
Matt DiBenedetto$7,800 19th0
Austin Dillon$7,600 21st1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.$6,000 26th30
Bubba Wallace$5,000 27th0

This shouldn't be a model for our lineups this week. There were some pit-strategy games and a big wreck at the end of the race, pushing the cheaper drivers higher in the order than they would have finished otherwise. But there are several paths to a cheaper driver paying off if they start deeper in the pack.

Value plays can certainly be in play if they start up front as long as you think they have the ability to also finish up there. If you really love a cheaper option, you don't need to cross them off if they start up front. You just have more leeway from a finishing perspective if those drivers start further back.

The way you can determine all of this -- the drivers you want to target for leading laps and which are positioned to pick up a quality finish -- is by looking at practice times.

There have been eight drivers who have led at least 100 laps at the 1.5-mile tracks since the implementation of this package. All eight of them ranked eighth or better in the practice-only version of my model, and just two were outside the top five. Not all drivers who are fast during practice will be fast during the race, but most drivers who are fast during the race are fast during practice.

Leaning on current form can be a good way to weed out whose practice times may be more legit than others'. The current-form segment of my model was the segment that correlated best to each driver's average running position in 8 of 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks using this package last year. Practice topped the charts in the other two, meaning track history was very much a supplement rather than a staple in predicting who would run well.

For 2020, the only race we've got with resemblance to Atlanta is Las Vegas. Daytona was a pack-racing track, Fontana was a much higher-speed venue, and Phoenix used a completely separate rules package. There are differences between Atlanta and Las Vegas, as well, but it'll be our best proxy for each driver in their current equipment. You can also draw from late-season 2019 races at places like Homestead and Texas, but our best data will likely come from Vegas.

If you combine that current form with what you see in practice, you should have a good idea of which cars will be strongest during the race. They'll be a bit more attractive if they're starting further back due to the amped-up floor and path to upside, but as long as they're fast, the driver can be viable anywhere. This new rules package gives us that flexibility, and we should be inclined to exploit it and adjust our process based on what goes down in practice and qualifying.