Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Supermarket Heroes 500
For just the second time in 2020, we get to see the NASCAR Cup Series' new rules package for shorter tracks.
Last year, racing on those tracks was aggressively bland as the higher spoilers made follow-the-leader the norm. So, the sanctioning body changed things up and trimmed the spoiler for this year, and the re-debut at Phoenix went swimmingly.
Then COVID-19 happened.
Because teams had intermediate-track cars prepared before the layoff, that's where the Cup Series went for the first four races back, and those tracks had the lower-horsepower package. As such, across eight total races this year, we've had just one taste of what this new package could be.
That changes Sunday as the Cup Series heads to Bristol. It's a high-banked, blender-esque track where tempers can flare and things can get wild. Hold onto your butts.
With a lower-spoiler package being re-introduced, we likely need to throw out the data from 2019 when trying to decide what to expect. The racing in Bristol last year was still solid, but the earlier races will be more in line with what we're likely to see on Sunday.
Let's do that now, digging into past Bristol races to see how they've played out. Then, we can apply that to Sunday's race and outline the optimal strategies we should apply when filling out DFS lineups.
Laps, Laps, and More Laps
A big topic of discussion whenever you're deciding how to tackle a race in DFS is going to be the number of laps in the race. We get 0.1 points for every lap a driver leads on FanDuel, so this is a necessary practice if we want to tailor our lineups to that week's circumstances.
On Sunday, they're going to circle Bristol a whopping 500 times, tied for the most they'll run the entire year. If you don't emphasize laps led, your bankroll will go belly up.
This has been true at Bristol no matter what package they've run. The Cup Series has run four races at Bristol since the introduction of stage racing in which they had smaller spoilers. In those four races, 10 drivers have led at least 100 laps (2.5 per race), and 15 have led at least 60. One driver led at least 200 laps in three of those four, which equates to 20.0 FanDuel points from that category alone. It's just a wee bit important.
The implication of this for DFS is that we need potential lap leaders -- plural -- in every lineup we submit. This is true for both cash games and for tournaments.
One of the keys to pinpointing which drivers will lead laps is the starting order. Most of the drivers who lead the train are going to begin the race at the front of the pack.
Of the 10 drivers who have led at least 100 laps in this sample, seven have started within the first three rows (sixth or higher). Three of them started on the pole, meaning 75% of the pole-sitters in this sample got at least 10 bonus points on FanDuel for laps led. Two of them led more than 200 laps.
That makes it important for us to know the way the starting order will be set for Sunday. It'll be the same procedure used for the first race at Darlington.
The field will partially be set by owners points. The top 12 cars in owner points will start in the top 12 positions. The order of those 12 will be set by a random draw, which has not yet taken place. Then the same process will take place with the cars ranked 13th through 24th in owner points, and so on.
The difficult aspect of this procedure compared to how things have played out in the past is that the drivers starting up front may not necessarily have the fastest cars in the field. When we have qualifying, we at least know that the driver who wins the pole has some ponies under the hood. Here, we can assume that because the car is high in owner points, but it's not as much of a given.
As a result, we may not need to be as rigid about where drivers are starting as we usually would be. If you love a driver, but they wind up starting sixth, you can still make a strong case for using that driver as one of your dominators. You'll just want to make sure you give extra consideration to drivers who draw ahead of them to see if their case for leading laps is even better.
It also helps that it's not unheard of for drivers starting outside the top six to lead laps. Three times in our four-race sample, a driver who started 10th or lower managed to lead 120 laps, including Kyle Busch, who led 156 laps and won the 2017 fall race. It can happen. It's just not as likely as drivers with more ideal starting spots.
This is another instance where we can utilize the "waves" strategy we discussed prior to the Coca-Cola 600. Let's say that Busch draws the 12th starting spot, but you really want to use him because of his impressive course history. You can certainly do that; you just need to pair him with a "wave one" driver starting higher in the order who can lead laps early while Busch works his way through traffic.
The obvious complication here is that laps led ain't cheap. Usually, the drivers running out front are going to cost you a pretty penny, and we have to work around the $50,000 salary cap. There are a couple of ways to navigate this.
First, because Bristol is a short track, not all of our lap-leaders are going to be hyper-expensive. In the 2018 fall race, all three drivers who led at least 100 laps were $11,000 or cheaper on FanDuel. Last year, Matt DiBenedetto led a race-high 93 laps at a salary of just $7,000. If you can find mid-range plays starting near the front who have the projected speed to lead laps, feel free to take advantage.
Second, punting is fully in play at Bristol. With equipment mattering less at a shorter track, the pool of drivers who could post a competitive finish is larger. This allows us to dip down lower in the player pool than we normally would, giving us increased flexibility at the top end.
The other thing that boosts the appeal of punting is the attrition rate of the track. In the 2017 and 2018 races, 26.9% of the drivers entered finished at least 20 laps down. Every time one driver wrecks, each driver running behind them moves up one spot, which is worth 1.5 points on FanDuel. If that happens multiple times throughout the race, you're getting a big boost, inflating the finishing and place-differential points of drivers who usually finish outside the top 20.
That attrition rate also helps us entertain place-differential plays within our value options, especially with the way the starting order is set. There are several legitimate drivers who are outside the top 24 in owner points and will thus start somewhere between 25th and 36th for the race. They won't contend to lead laps, but you don't need that out of these drivers. They're more likely to generate upside via place-differential, and an abundance of wrecks would aid them in getting to that goal.
All of this combines to make our main edicts for Bristol pretty clear. With our studs, we want them to lead laps. If they're not capable of doing that, they're going to be a really tough sell, and most of the drivers who are capable of doing that are going to start at the front.
In the middle range, you can go for either laps led or place-differential. If you see a mid-tier driver starting up front who you think can lead laps, lock 'em in. If there's someone in that tier starting further back, they can also pay off and be a good play as long as you have a pair of studs already locked in to control the race up front.
For the value plays, we're looking for some drivers who will finish better than they're starting. As we saw with DiBenedetto last year, it's possible for a value play to pay off even if they start up front, so there's no need to write off a high-starting cheaper driver if you think they have a shot to contend. But if we find an option starting deeper in the pack who could work their way forward, the safety in that mold will be desirable.