Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Coca-Cola 600 and Charlotte 500K
Before each race here on numberFire for the past couple of years, we've written up track previews. The intention is to lay out what makes the track unique and how that impacts your strategies around it for daily fantasy NASCAR.
On Sunday and Wednesday, the NASCAR Cup Series will race twice at the same track as they bombard home base at Charlotte Motor Speedway. If we go with the "track preview" angle, then we should be able to play things pretty similarly for both slates when filling out lineups.
Unless you have a burning desire to donate money to other DFS players, you'd be wise not to do so.
Truthfully, the track itself isn't what dictates strategy for NASCAR DFS. Rather, it's qualifying and the length of the race. The track certainly plays a role in dictating the way those two things influence our strategy, but those are the true driving forces.
Those two aspects could not be more different between Sunday's race and Wednesday's. In order to not go all Heath-Ledger-as-the-Joker on your bankroll, you're going to have to approach these races in wildly different fashions. Let's go through the two races now, lay out their differences, and outline optimal strategies for each.
The Coca-Cola 600
Sunday's race is the longest on the Cup Series schedule each year. The 600 miles are meant to test the endurance of both the drivers and the equipment, and it often does exactly that.
But it also gives us gobs of points for laps led.
The 600 miles on a 1.5-mile track translates to 400 total laps in the race. On FanDuel, that means we have 40.0 points available for laps led, which is the type of number you typically see only at short tracks. Here, it's at an intermediate track, and it's a race drivers have dominated in the past.
Over the past four Coca-Cola 600s, a single driver has led more than half the laps three separate times. On two occasions, they almost led it wire-to-wire.
|Coca-Cola 600||Driver to Lead Most Laps||Laps Led||FD Points From Laps Led|
|2016||Martin Truex Jr.||392||39.2|
|2017||Martin Truex Jr.||233||23.3|
|2019||Martin Truex Jr.||116||11.6|
Clear and Obvious Takeaway No. 1: Martin Truex Jr. is really good here.
Clear and Obvious Takeaway No. 2: That's a whole lotta laps.
In 2016, Truex scored 38.2 more FanDuel points than any other driver in the field. In 2018, Busch topped the field by 34.2 points. If you didn't have those guys on your roster, you weren't cashing. It's that simple.
The not-so-clear and not-so-obvious takeaway from the chart above, though, is that 2019 was different. There, no driver led more than 120 laps, and three drivers led at least 75. It's also the only Charlotte race we've seen with the new rules package, which is abundantly noteworthy.
The intention of the new rules package was to make races at tracks like Charlotte more competitive. NASCAR wanted to keep packs more tightly together and to make passing easier. Based on what we saw in 2019 -- both at Charlotte and elsewhere -- they were successful. That's the package they'll be using again on Sunday.
The flatter distribution of laps led wasn't unique to the Coca-Cola 600. NASCAR has run 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks using the full new aero package. In those 11 races, only once has a driver led more than half the race, and they've topped the 40% barrier just three times.
This is not meant to say we should disregard laps led when building our lineups. Rather, it's meant to say we should target multiple drivers who have the upside to run out front and rack up that upside.
In this same 11-race sample, 14 drivers have led at least 25% of the race. In a 400-lap event, that amounts to 100 laps, which nets us 10 FanDuel points. That's a big number, and we've averaged more than one of them per race even in the new package.
As mentioned, last year, three separate drivers led at least 75 laps at Charlotte, which means three drivers got you a bump of 7.5 FanDuel points. We should be working hard to get as many of those onto our roster as possible.
What's also noteworthy about those three drivers is where they started the race. Not all of them saw the green flag drop from the front of the field.
Kyle Busch led 79 laps, and he started third. That's about what you'd expect.
But Truex -- who led the most laps -- started 14th. Brad Keselowski led 76 laps from 21st. It was key to find those laps led, but you didn't necessarily need to roster exclusively drivers starting at the front to get them.
This is another characteristic we've seen more broadly in the new aero package. Going back to that sample of 14 drivers who have led at least 25% of the laps, half of them started the race in eighth or lower. Two of them started outside the top 20, including Denny Hamlin when he led 55.2% of the laps in the playoff race at Kansas. Drivers can pick their way through the crowd in this package, so we can still get that laps-led juice even when using some drivers starting deeper in the field.
That is relevant with the way that qualifying will be conducted this weekend.
Unlike other races since the end of the COVID-19 layoff, there will be qualifying on Sunday before the race. Qualifying is set to take place at 2 pm Eastern, which means it should wrap up by 3 pm Eastern.
As a result, in order to build optimal lineups, you're going to want to be around your computer some time between 3 pm and 6 pm Eastern. Otherwise, you'll be working with incomplete information.
It does help that this package allows for drivers to make passes in a hurry, so drivers who start in the back aren't necessarily excluded from leading laps. However, somebody's going to lead laps early on, and it's probably going to be drivers who qualify well.
One way to play this is by rostering drivers in "waves." What I mean by that is that you'll want to target drivers who work well together in the same lineup.
For example, let's say Truex qualifies poorly, but based on his track history and current form, you desperately want a piece. You can still use him, as evidenced above.
However, it might be optimal to pair him with a driver who can lead laps early, which we could call a "wave one" driver. Truex, then, would be a "wave two" driver who could lead laps late.
We should feel comfortable rostering studs starting further back as long as we think they can contend for a win. But because we don't want to sacrifice the points for leading laps early, it might be wise to pair them with a driver starting at the front who can lead the opening portion of the race. Pairing a wave one driver with someone in wave two allows us to account for qualifying without ignoring studs we like starting outside the front couple of rows.
One note here is that the wave approach is not something we should use in every lineup. It may happen where every driver we love for laps-led upside qualifies at the front of the pack. If that does happen, we'll want to just load up on them and disregard the second hypothetical wave. There are more than enough points for lap-leaders to go around to justify rostering two drivers starting at the front. In fact, if the cars we project to be fastest in the race qualify at the front, stacking that section will be the optimal approach. The waves strategy is more pertinent when you want to roster a driver who doesn't qualify well.
Perhaps the biggest implication of this emphasis on laps led is that our lineups are going to be a little top-heavy. Most drivers capable of leading laps are going to come with a lofty salary, so if we want to use them, we're going to have to pay the piper. Here, that's worth it.
Going stars-and-scrubsy means the expectation from your cheaper plays is lower. However, if using lower-upside plays there gets you access to the big-time totals studs can put up, it's a worthwhile tradeoff. Here, that is often the case, meaning we should be more willing to dumpster dive if it allows us to go nuts elsewhere.
As for those value plays, this is where qualifying will play a big key. Most often, we'll want those drivers to start further back.
Last year's perfect lineup at Charlotte had three drivers with salaries under $8,500. One was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who started ninth. However, he finished fifth in that race. If you can get a top 10 finish out of a value play, then they're viable regardless of where they start.
The other two values started 22nd and 30th. When you use value plays starting deeper in the pack, you give yourself extra wiggle room from a finishing perspective, and it's something we should seek out.
This is why it'll be key to find time between 3 pm and 6 pm Eastern on Sunday to fill out lineups. We'll learn a lot about the outlooks for each driver based on where they qualify, and it'll help us establish our waves lineups. So playing on Sunday will require a bit of planning in advance from a schedule perspective, but the increased value it will give your lineups is worth it.
Everything we discussed for Sunday? Light that business on fire for Wednesday.
The starting order for this race will be set the same way it was set for Wednesday night's race in Darlington. The top 20 finishers will be inverted with the winner starting 20th and the driver who finished 20th on the pole. Then, the drivers who finished 21st through 40th will start where they finished, barring a change in the cars entered for each race.
This means we'll know (roughly) where each driver is starting by Sunday night. Instead of having a three-hour window to fill out lineups, you'll have almost three days. #Blessed.
The length of the race is also radically different. In fact, it'll basically be half as long as Sunday's race.
This will be another 500-kilometer race, and at a 1.5-mile track, that works out to be 208 laps. That's just 20.8 FanDuel points from laps led, down from 40.0 on Sunday.
In your mind, you should just pretend these two races are occurring on different planets from each other. There are almost no similarities, and our lineup-building process will have to account for that.
Here, we don't care about waves. Our entire focus is on finding drivers with place-differential upside, starting in the back who can work their way forward as the race goes along.
If there is one similarity between the two races, it's that passing should be fairly easy. So the drivers who finish well on Sunday shouldn't have all that hard of a time working their way forward here. Passing will almost certainly be easier than it was in Darlington on Wednesday, meaning we could see an even more extreme skew toward the back than we had there.
If we get drivers in similar situations to what Busch, William Byron, and Jimmie Johnson had heading into Wednesday, we're going to want to be aggressive in shoving them into our lineups. All three were in the perfect lineup for that race even though neither Johnson nor Byron finished better than eighth. There's a massive advantage in using drivers starting further back, and with 400 laps for things to get funky on Sunday, you can bet we'll have those opportunities.
This is not to say we should completely ignore drivers starting up front... as long as they're fast. For Wednesday in Darlington, both Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer were starting up front after poor finishes in the first race back. But their speed was much better than the other cars around them. Thus, Bowyer managed to win the opening two stages, and Logano led 19 laps en route to a sixth-place finish. For tournaments, you can check out drivers up front if you think they have the speed to lead laps early and push for a win. Our cash-game lineups and our core for tournaments, though, should revolve around those starting further back.
The final thing to mention is that we -- once again -- should put a lot of stock into what we see on Sunday when deciding what to do on Wednesday. Charlotte is the first time this season the Cup Series has run a race on a 1.5-mile track with high banking. Las Vegas is also 1.5 miles long, but the banking there isn't as steep, and it can lead to different drivers excelling depending on the strengths of their teams.
As with last week, though, this comes with a word of caution. When determining which drivers were fast, lean more on loop data and the eye test than the finish. Bowyer had a top-10 average running position on Sunday but finished poorly. If you had looked at just his finish, you never would have considered him. It didn't wind up working out with Bowyer, but the 71 laps he led showed his car was stronger than his finish would have indicated.
Setting lineups for Wednesday requires us to cleanse our brains of everything we thought coming into Sunday. Gone is the emphasis on laps led, and in is a heavy emphasis on place-differential. It's tough to do that when it's literally the same track, but the different circumstances require it if we want to take down some tourneys.