Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Current Form, Track History, and Betting Odds for the Darlington 400
When you think of NASCAR, there's an inclination to focus on the flashier aspects of the sport. You've got slick paint jobs, top-end speed, and an element of danger.
Data ain't flashy, and it's not something we typically associate with the sport. But winning money in DFS is flashy, and leveraging the data the sport provides can help us do just that.
At each venue, NASCAR has what it calls "loops" at various points around the track. These loops show us where each driver is in the running order several times each lap, how many times they were involved in a pass, where they were at key points during the race, and more. This is going to give us a firm read on the strength of each driver, which clearly has value when you're filling out a DFS lineup.
It can sometimes be tough to get all the key data you need for an upcoming race in one specific spot. So, going forward here on numberFire, we're going to try to wrangle it together and put it in a table so you can decide for yourself which drivers you want to plug in.
This week, the NASCAR Cup Series is getting its season back underway at Darlington, a 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track with a narrow racing groove. There's no other track like it on the circuit, and the Cup Series (in the past) has visited Darlington just once per year. Both of those factors will influence which data we lean on.
The big one is that the Cup Series comes here just once per year. That means we don't have any races in Darlington where each driver was with their current team, and if we want a three-race sample, we have to go all the way back to 2017. Almost half the drivers in that race won't even be in the field this weekend, and only 10 drivers are still with the same teams they drove for in that one. With how important equipment is in NASCAR, that's going to give us some wonky results if we lean heavily on track history.
So, in our chart below, you'll see much more data on recent races, four of which came in 2020. That way, we can get a better idea of what drivers are doing in their current situations, which will always be a better gauge of what we should expect going forward. We can still look at track history; we just need to make sure that the current form takes precedence.
For current form at Darlington, we'll include the four races that took place in 2020 before the stoppage due to COVID-19. In order to increase the sample, we'll also tack on two races from the end of 2019 at Homestead and Texas. We'll still get drivers on different teams than they're on now, and those tracks aren't identical to Darlington, but there are commonalities in that they're intermediate tracks in the current rules package. Those later-season races will also be able to account for which teams made gains throughout 2019, giving us a better idea of who is likely to compete than if we were to dip back further into the season.
When displaying performance in these races -- both in the current form and track history segments -- we'll be looking at each driver's average running position rather than their finish.
A driver's finishing position shows where they were on just one lap during the race (even if it is the one that counts most). Average running position, on the other hand, shows where they were at each loop they passed during the race. You're just increasing the sample size. This way, if a driver dominates the entire day but has a late issue and finishes poorly, we'll still view them in a positive light.
A good example of this Ryan Blaney ($10,400) in Fontana. There, Blaney was in contention the entire day and running second with just five laps left. But he cut a tire and had to pit, pushing him back to a 19th-place finish.
If you judge Blaney based on the finish at that track, you'll think he's overpriced at $10,400. But when you see his third-place average running position, you'll realize that he had the ability to win and just didn't have things break his way.
Average running position is still subject to flukiness, especially if a driver has an issue early in the race and has to work their way forward. It's going to underrate them in that scenario.
But it's still a high-quality catch-all metric. The Cup Series visited 12 tracks multiple times during the 2019 season. The correlation between each driver's finish in the two races was 0.393, meaning we can glean information from looking at that when trying to project forward. But the correlation between their average running position in the first race and finish in the second race was 0.437. If you wanted to predict who would compete in the second race, you'd do better to lean on their average running positions in the first race than their finishes. Those two numbers shift to 0.435 and 0.481, respectively, if you omit Daytona and Talladega.
The other thing listed here is the driver's FanDuel salary and win odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. The salary is so that you can pinpoint drivers who may be underpriced, and the betting odds show us which drivers legitimately have the upside to win the race. It's worth noting that betting odds can sometimes be off (Matt Kenseth ($7,200), specifically, has never driven a car in this package, won't have any practice prior to the race, and somehow is still 22/1 to win), so we need to proceed with some caution. But they can at least guide us toward which drivers we need to investigate further.
|Current Form||Track History|
|Driver||Salary||Win Odds||Phoenix||Fontana||Las Vegas||Daytona||Homestead||Texas||2019||2018||2017|
|Martin Truex, Jr.||$11,500||+950||11||9||8||22||3||13||16||10||2|
|Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||$6,400||+7500||22||22||15||11||22||35||28||19||29|
|John Hunter Nemechek||$5,000||+20000||20||25||20||23||27||23||--||--||--|
There's still a key piece of the puzzle we are missing as of Tuesday. NASCAR has not yet announced how the starting order will be set for Sunday's race, and with place differential being a major outlet for scoring, we'll need to hold off on building lineups until that procedure is made official. But for now, this can at least serve as a jumping-off point for our research so we know which drivers we may want to have on our radar this weekend.
UPDATE: NASCAR has announced that the starting order will largely be set by owner points for Sunday's race in Darlington.
How starting lineups determined for Darlington and Charlotte: pic.twitter.com/fvlMKiK26g
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) May 12, 2020
Although the timing of the draws has not yet been announced, we can at least get a basic idea on who will start where by looking at 2020 owner standings. Note that you will need to manually click the "Owner Standings" tab as there is no direct link there.
This is important because not every team has had the same driver the entire year. Kenseth is sliding into Kyle Larson's old ride, and Ryan Newman ($7,000) will be back in his car after missing the past three races due to injury. As a result, the starting order based on owner points will be different than it would be if it were set by driver points.