Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

In the words of Yogi Berra, it's deja vu all over again.

Almost three months ago, we were in this exact same position. The NASCAR Cup Series was preparing for a trip to Atlanta where they would run 325 laps in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Then COVID-19 happened and put the sport on ice.

Now, the Cup Series is set to make up that date, heading back to Atlanta for its sixth race since the end of the layoff. Time to set the table once again.

Let's take a look at what we should expect in Atlanta as the Cup Series returns to its baseline aerodynamics package but also prepares to run a long race. Then, we can convert that into strategies for NASCAR DFS in Sunday's race.

Studs in the Front

This may sound weird given that the Cup Series just ran the Coca-Cola 600 about 10 days ago, but Sunday's race in Atlanta is quite lengthy. The 325 laps is tied for the second-most they will run on a 1.5-mile track all year long.

Whenever we have situations like this, we have a clear strategy for daily fantasy: we need to get lap-leaders onto our roster.

The 325 laps gives us 32.5 FanDuel points for laps led. If we don't get those points on our rosters, our lineups will lag behind others in our contests, no matter how many place-differential points we get elsewhere.

For this specific race, that's likely going to mean targeting drivers starting closer to the front of the pack. Once again, NASCAR will set the field loosely based on owner points. The top 12 cars in owner points will occupy the top 12 positions in the starting order. They will just draw to see who starts where within those 12 spots. The same process will be conducted for those starting 13th to 24th, and so on.

In other words, the 12 cars that have had the best performances this year are going to be the ones starting at the front of the pack. The top eight drivers in my model are all in that top 12 group, and the top 12 starters are all ranked 14th or better in my model. Those are also going to be the drivers most likely to run out front and gobble up all of that upside.

Although the distribution of laps led has been flatter while running the new rules package, drivers have still been able to get difference-making bumps from running out front. In 13 races at 1.5-mile tracks using this package, 28 drivers have led at least 18.5% of the race (equivalent to 60 laps on Sunday), and 12 drivers have led at least 30.7% (equivalent to 100 laps). If you can get two drivers who manage to lead more than 60 laps on Sunday into your roster, it'll make a tangible difference in your scoring expectation.

Because of this, we're likely going to want at least two drivers in each lineup who are starting near the front and are capable of leading laps. Normally, it's fine to shoot a bit further back on this track type as passes can be made, but with the top drivers all starting in the first 12 positions, a more front-heavy approach is necessary.

Values in the Back

The spot to mine for place-differential points isn't in the studs, where the opportunity cost of passing up on laps led is greater. It's with the value plays, and we're likely to have solid options here due to those same qualifying procedures.

As mentioned before, passing on this track type isn't difficult at all. Atlanta will be the fourth time the Cup Series has raced at a 1.5-mile track this year. In the first three, eight drivers have made the perfect lineup with a salary under $10,000. Here's where those drivers started the race.

Driver Race Salary Starting Position
Matt DiBenedetto Las Vegas $7,800 19th
Austin Dillon Las Vegas $7,600 21st
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Las Vegas $6,000 26th
Bubba Wallace Las Vegas $5,000 27th
Aric Almirola Charlotte 1 $8,300 40th
Cole Custer Charlotte 1 $6,200 28th
Austin Dillon Charlotte 2 $7,200 7th
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Charlotte 2 $6,300 24th

The Las Vegas race is noteworthy because qualifying was rained out, meaning the starting order was also set by owner points. There, four value plays made the perfect lineup while starting 19th or lower, and drivers starting in that range filled seven of the eight slots in perfect lineups across the three races.

Because of the way the starting order will be set, we could -- in theory -- see the team ranked 13th in owner points start as low as 24th. The drivers in that second group will start no higher than 13th, and there are also viable drivers who will start between 25th and 36th. We're going to have place-differential options at our disposal; we just have to identify who those difference-making plays will be.

The best way to determine whom we should love among the values is by looking back at recent races. Thankfully, our data there is hugely helpful.

The predominant characteristics of Atlanta are that it is 1.5 miles in length and that there is heavy tire wear at the track. We have samples on drivers in both settings since the end of the COVID-19 layoff.

The two races in Charlotte show us how drivers can perform on high-banked, 1.5-mile tracks. The two races at Darlington can illustrate how well they deal with heavy tire falloff. You can also jack up both samples by looking at pre-layoff races in Las Vegas (1.5 miles) and Fontana (heavy tire falloff), giving us a meaty sample of six races in 2020 alone that bear at least some resemblance to this weekend's event.

Dig into each of those races, see which cheaper drivers had good speed, and see where they're starting. If they're in the mid-teens, they'll be viable for DFS because they'll be likely to have the upside to finish in the top 10. But if they draw a bit further back, they'll be desirable cash-game options and core plays for tournaments.

This same data can help us identify which of the studs starting at the front has the upside to jump out and lead a bunch of laps. Speed is speed, and we should expect the drivers who had good runs in Charlotte, Darlington, Las Vegas, and Fontana to compete again on Sunday.


Overall, our edict for filling out lineups should be pretty straightforward, and we'll have plenty of freedom here.

For each lineup, we'll want two studs who we think have the ability to hop out front and lead laps. We'll want them to start near the front, but with the way the starting order is set, that's pretty much a given already. Where they start within those top 12 spots doesn't make a massive difference due to the ease drivers should have in making passes.

For the other three spots in our lineup, we'll want to put an emphasis on place-differential candidates. We've seen this play out in a big way so far in 2020, and the qualifying procedures should allow us to get high-quality plays starting in the middle of the pack once again.

And finally, for both, we can and should lean on what we've seen at relevant tracks in 2020 to determine who will be fast. Our samples for 1.5-mile tracks and those with heavy tire wear are robust enough where we can have increased confidence in our read on each driver, something that hasn't always been the case since the end of the COVID-19 layoff. This should make for a fairly leisurely lineup-building experience, and it should give us better outputs to boot.