Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500
If you're tired of talking about laps led for daily fantasy NASCAR, I've got bad news for you, friend.
They're pretty much all that matters at Martinsville.
That's where the NASCAR Cup Series will be Wednesday night for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. Martinsville is a short, paperclip-shaped track with 500 laps on the docket. That's 50.0 FanDuel points for laps led, and trying to maximize how many of those are on our roster will be a central focus.
Today, we're going to look back at past Martinsville races to see why this is so important and to identify where we can find those laps led. Then we'll spin that into discussing how we should build optimal rosters for NASCAR DFS.
Before we actually dig into the data, it's worth noting that the 2019 races in Martinsville should probably be thrown out the window.
In those races, the NASCAR Cup Series was running a different aero package than we'll see this weekend. Passing was tough, and it allowed Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. to lead 446 and 464 laps, respectively, in those races. If the racing at Bristol and Phoenix using this package is any indication, we should expect a more competitive affair on Wednesday.
That does not mean we should expect a bunch of different leaders.
There have been four races at Martinsville since the introduction of stage racing in which they used a lower-downforce aero package (the 2017 and 2018 races). In those four races, 10 different drivers have led at least 100 laps in a race. That's 2.5 per race on average.
Three times in that span, a driver managed to lead at least 200 laps, including the 309 Joey Logano led in the fall of 2018. It's not as dominant as Keselowski and Truex last year, but that's still 30.9 FanDuel points from one category alone.
More often than not, those drivers finish up front, too. Of the 10 drivers to lead 100 laps, 8 finished within the top 4 positions in the race. That's noteworthy because, at higher-chaos tracks like Bristol, we can sometimes see a more back-heavy approach pay off if lap-leaders crash later on. That doesn't happen too frequently here.
Because of this, it's critical we lock in on drivers who are primed to lead a bunch of laps and shovel them into our lineups. If we get 20 points from laps led, and our competitors get 30, we're not taking down a tournament.
Most of the time -- not shockingly -- those laps led will come from the front of the pack, and that's especially true with the way the starting order will be set for Wednesday.
As with the past couple of races, the starting order will be set by a combination of owner points and a draw. The top 12 cars in owner points will occupy the top 12 spots in the starting order. They will draw the order Monday night to determine who starts where within those 12 spots. Then the cars ranked 13th through 24th will do the same, and on and on.
In other words, the 12 best cars through the opening 10 races will start in the top 12 spots. Those are the cars most likely to lead laps, anyway, so we shouldn't have to dig to find potential lap-leaders.
This fits well with past trends at Martinsville. Of the aforementioned 10 drivers to lead 100 laps here from 2017 to 2018, all but one started in the top 10, and none started deeper than 14th. Starting position is relevant in determining who will run out front and put together a can't-miss performance.
The question is how much of a difference there is between starting 1st and starting 12th. Once we look at the past races, it's clear we don't need to ignore drivers who draw in the back half of the top 12, but using them does require a specific change.
This table shows the starting positions of the drivers who have led the most, second-most, and third-most laps in the 2017 and 2018 Martinsville races.
|Race||Most Laps Led||Second Most||Third Most|
In each of the four races, the driver who led the most laps started ninth or lower. Meanwhile, the driver who led the second-most laps started inside the top five. That's mighty interesting.
Basically, the way things played out was like this. A driver who started near the front would lead laps early. You can tick off laps in a hurry, so if you get the lead 10 laps in, you may wind up leading the rest of that stage. Then, after enough time had passed, the fastest car in the field would take command.
If you read our track previews for Bristol or the Coca-Cola 600, you'll recognize this as being conducive to a "waves" approach in DFS.
The waves approach is where you target drivers in waves based on where they're starting. If you love Keselowski, but he draws the 12th starting spot, you can still use him; you just need to pair him with a driver starting closer to the front -- a "wave one" driver -- who can lead laps while Keselowski works his way to the front.
The 2018 fall race -- the one where Logano led 309 laps -- is a good example of this. Logano started 10th and took some time to work his way forward. While Logano was doing that, Kyle Busch -- who started on the pole -- led 100 laps, the second-most in the race. There, Logano was the wave two driver, and Busch was his wave one pairing.
This is relevant for Wednesday's race if your favorite studs start in the back half of the top 12. In that scenario, you should use the wave approach and pair them with someone in the top half of that draw. But it doesn't mean we have to use that approach in every lineup.
It's very possible your favorite drivers for the race all draw near the front. In that scenario, you can just pack them all in and disregard the second wave. There are more than enough laps to go around for multiple drivers starting at the front to pay off as long as they're fast enough to lead a bunch of laps.
An easier way to think about it is this: you want to avoid having chunks of the race where nobody on your roster is contending to lead laps. If you disregard the front of the pack entirely, you're sacrificing the laps led early in the race. But if you use multiple drivers at the front or utilize the waves approach, you're at least giving yourself a chance at as many of those 50.0 FanDuel points as possible.
How to Afford the Studs
The one issue we run into with this top-heavy approach is affording all of those lap-leaders. They tend to carry massive salaries, so it may be tough to do this in practice. But we can lean on the same crutches here that helped us in both Bristol and Charlotte.
There, we mentioned the keys to emphasizing laps led were searching for mid-range plays who could run out front and being willing to punt.
For this race, specifically, FanDuel has made salaries more top-heavy, meaning you'll have to pay the piper if you want to get the guys likely to dominate. Still, there are several drivers with salaries between $10,000 and $12,000 who will start within the top 12 spots and have the upside to run out front. If you find a driver who fits that mold and draws an ideal starting spot, feel free to target them. It may even allow you to get a third lap-leader into your lineup, which is very much in play for a race like this.
But with the studs being more expensive, punting will be more necessary. Thankfully, it's a viable roster-construction strategy here.
At Martinsville, it should be pretty easy to find value plays who can pay off. In our four-race sample, 28 drivers (17.9%) completed less than 490 laps, meaning they likely had some sort of issue during the race. This isn't as high of an attrition rate as we had at Bristol, but it means there should be some incidents. Every time that happens, the drivers running behind the driver involved in the incident move up a spot, giving them 1.5 FanDuel points per car they pass. That inflates their finishing points and place-differential outlook.
Additionally, equipment matters less at Martinsville than it does at any of the bigger tracks. This increases the pool of drivers who could realistically push for a top-10 finish as talented drivers in lesser equipment become more lively.
Combine those two factors together, and it's almost a lock that cheaper options will put together top-10 and top-15 runs, and they'll usually do so while starting further back in the pack. It shouldn't be all that difficult to afford our potential lap-leaders, making it a must that we push to do so.
The other ripple effect of the starting order for this week is that we're guaranteed to have value plays starting further back. The deeper they start on Wednesday, the better.
As mentioned, any calamity that does occur will push the drivers running further back up in the order. The re-tooled package should both increase the calamity and give the drivers a better ability to work their way through traffic. This is a boon for identifying place-differential drivers, and they'll be the ones who bring the best upside to the table.
In other words, our overall approach for this weekend will be similar to what we did for the Bristol race. We want to stack the front of the pack, hunting for laps led. If a driver we like is starting further back, we can lean on the wave approach to help get them in without sacrificing upside.
Our mid-range drivers can be swingmen. If they're starting up front and can lead laps, that's awesome. It'll give us either a third lap-leader or a more balanced roster. But they can also be starting further back as long as we already have at least two dominators locked in.
Then for the true values, we should be willing to punt while looking for place-differential upside. Both of those things better position us to post a difference-making total, which is what we'll need to take down a tournament.
As a result of all of this, we'll have to put a heavy emphasis on how things break with the starting-order draw on Monday night. However, doing so is necessary if we want to fully account for the length of the race, something we will have to do if we want to spin a profit on Wednesday.