Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Pocono Organics 325 and Pocono 350
This weekend's NASCAR Cup Series affair in Pocono was supposed to be a special event. They had baked in a double-header at the same track on back-to-back days, the first time such an endeavor had taken place in Cup Series history.
Then COVID-19 happened.
This will still be the first time we've had back-to-back races on consecutive days, but with the double-headers in Darlington and Charlotte, some of the luster is gone from the Pocono do-si-do. From a DFS perspective, though, both races figure to be interesting.
The strategy for both races is going to be very similar; the route to said optimal strategy will just be a bit different on Saturday than it is on Sunday. So, let's first dive into what the optimal approach for both races is and then discuss the implications of that for Saturday and then Sunday.
In real racing, there aren't many similarities between Pocono and Talladega. In Talladega, drivers race in packs from start to finish, allowing drivers to jockey their way through the pack with relative ease. Pocono is shaped like a triangle, passing is tough, and the action can often get super strung out.
But even with that being the case, our optimal strategy this weekend will be hyper-similar to the one we used in Talladega. You want place-differential candidates above all else.
The true dictating factor of strategy in daily fantasy NASCAR isn't the configuration of the track; it's the number of laps in the race. The shorter the race, the lower the upside for drivers starting up front as they can't load up on points via laps led.
Talladega's race this past weekend was scheduled for 188 laps. The two Pocono races are even shorter than that with 130 on Saturday and 140 on Sunday. That leaves just 13.0 and 14.0 FanDuel points available for laps led, respectively, meaning the biggest upside will be in finding drivers who can jack up their scores via place-differential.
In Talladega, finding those drivers was pretty easy. The pool of drivers who can run well there is larger, meaning drivers starting further back have a good shot to finish well. In Pocono, things are a bit different.
Equipment matters a lot in Pocono, and there aren't a ton of crashes. As a result, that pool of competitive drivers shrinks, giving us fewer options we can target without totally punting. That has the potential to negatively impact our ability to locate place-differential studs.
That doesn't mean it will be impossible, though, especially for Sunday's race. So with our place-differential-centric mindset in place, let's look at the procedure for setting the starting order in both races and see how we should expect to play things.
Saturday's starting order will be set in a similar fashion to a bunch of races recently. We've gotten used to this procedure.
The top 12 cars in owner points will occupy the top 12 spots in the starting order. NASCAR will draw to determine the order in which those 12 drivers start. Then, they'll do the same for the cars ranked 13th through 24th and so on.
Although the 12 best cars from this year will be in the top 12 spots, there are a bunch of competitive drivers who will start between 13th and 24th. Several have the upside to win races; they just haven't had enough consistency to wind up in the top 12 in points. There are a couple of teams that are at least lively enough for consideration that will start 25th on back, as well.
The middle tier -- those starting 13th to 24th -- is going to be a sweet spot for us in Saturday's race. If we can correctly pinpoint which drivers there will work their way toward the front and push for a top-10 or top-5 finish, we'll fit our ideal strategy without sacrificing finishing upside.
From an exposure perspective, we're going to want to load up on drivers in this tier. We don't want to ignore the drivers at the front -- getting the winner in your lineup will be a plus no matter where they start -- but we want to have our core revolve around this range.
As a result, our goal should be to have more balanced rosters than we've had in most other races. The reasons to do this go beyond additional exposure to the middle tier.
First, with the race being shorter, there are just fewer FanDuel points to be had. When that's the case, there's less of a need to get up to the true studs as they don't provide as much of an advantage as they would in a race with more laps to lead. Whereas in places like Bristol or Martinsville we'd try to jam in at least two and often three studs per lineup, we can even get away with just one here.
Second, a balanced lineup means we don't have to dip down into uncompetitive cars as often. If you jam in two super high-salaried studs, the salary floor of your lineup goes down. At a place like this -- where equipment matters more -- that's going to hurt your projected finishing position. And as mentioned in the last point, our incentive to get those studs in is lesser, as well, giving further legitimacy to more balanced lineups.
This makes Saturday's race pretty straightforward. We want to get lots of exposure to our favorite drivers in the middle tier and keep our lineups balanced. There will be some complications if our favorite drivers draw toward the top end of their starting range, but overall, this is clearly our optimal strategy.
On Sunday, things get a whole heck of a lot easier. The reason for that -- once again -- comes from the manner in which the order is set.
As we saw in the second races for double-headers in Darlington and Charlotte, the starting field will be set by a partial invert from the first race. For Pocono on Sunday, that means the top 20 finishers from Saturday will invert. The winner will start 20th, the driver who finishes 20th will start 1st, and so on.
This means we will have the best drivers from Saturday starting in a position to get place-differential points on Sunday. Hallelujah.
The rest of the field will -- effectively -- be set by where they finish. So if a driver finishes 34th, they're likely to start there on Sunday, as well.
This provides us with an opportunity. If a driver with good equipment has bad luck or an issue on Saturday, they're going to be in prime position to bathe in place-differential on Sunday. We will want to take advantage.
This makes it important to watch Saturday's race if you can. That way, you can more easily pinpoint drivers who had better speed than their finishes would indicate and buy low on those drivers for Sunday. Stats like driver rating and average running position can help bridge this gap, as well, if you're not around to watch the race.
In the two races that have used an invert this year, only one driver has made the perfect lineup after starting inside the top 15. Those races even featured 68 more laps than they'll run on Sunday, meaning things could skew even further toward the back this time around.
One final ripple effect of this starting order is that scores for the studs will be higher on Sunday than they are on Saturday. If it's easier to get studs in a position to rack up place-differential points, then their scores are naturally going to be higher. This should make us slightly more willing to go with less balanced rosters than we had for Saturday's race.
We still don't want to use drivers who are not competitive because finishing points matter a good amount. However, the advantages of a more top-heavy lineup are bigger on Sunday than they will be on Saturday. So if there is a lower-salaried driver who shows some life on Saturday and isn't starting at the front on Sunday, you can feel free to consider them even if they're not a huge threat for a top-10 finish.
So, the overall theme between the two races is the same. We want place-differential above all else. But Sunday's race will offer us better routes for finding it, and it will alter our roster construction at least a bit. It's important we keep these differences in mind while filling out lineups, and doing so should give us a leg up on competitors who don't account for the differences between the two races.