Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
If you win The Masters, you get a green jacket.
Helping your team win the Super Bowl nets you a Lombardi Trophy.
Lord Stanley's Cup is one of the most coveted objects in the entire sporting world.
If you win a NASCAR Cup Series race in New Hampshire? You're not getting a trophy. Instead, you could get the scare of a lifetime.
Denny Hamlin describes his terrifying encounter with a 44-pound monster lobster https://t.co/taAvqAi8lG pic.twitter.com/vU3wrJT8z5
— For The Win (@ForTheWin) July 18, 2017
.@KevinHarvick's son, Keelan, KISSED THE LOBSTER! pic.twitter.com/2YQU6JoXEz
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 21, 2019
This is one race Denny Hamlin might be okay not winning.
The "live-lobster-as-a-trophy" schtick definitely makes New Hampshire unique within the Cup Series. But it's also a bit of an odd duck for daily fantasy, especially if we're looking at the 2020 season.
New Hampshire is one of just a few flat, short tracks on the Cup Series circuit, meaning our sample of relevant races to look at is reduced. There have been only two such races this year, one of which was before the COVID-19 layoff. We don't have good data on who will be fast this weekend.
It's also unique in that it's a 301-mile race, one of the shorter races of the season. It has fewer laps than any of the other races on short, flat tracks, meaning New Hampshire effectively belongs in its own bucket from a similarity perspective.
As such, we've got to put more weight on what we've seen at New Hampshire in the past when trying to determine how to play things for DFS. Let's do that now and see where the data leads us.
Prepare for Dominators
The big key to know for DFS is how many drivers we can reasonably expect to lead an impactful number of laps. With 30.1 points available for laps led on FanDuel, those puppies are guaranteed to swing contests.
Based on recent history at New Hampshire, there's a good bet we have two drivers who move the needle in this column.
There have been four races at New Hampshire since the implementation of stage racing in 2017. Stage racing is key because it bakes in two cautions, allowing the field to catch up to whoever was running out front. Even with those stage breaks, two drivers have led at least 80 laps in all four of those races. That's 8.0 FanDuel points, which makes a big difference.
In last year's race, both Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin led more than 100 laps. It's important to note, though, that this race will feature a different rules package than the 2019 rendition.
Last year, NASCAR ran a high-downforce package in almost every race, including the shorter tracks like New Hampshire. For 2020, they've reverted to the lower-downforce package again for those tracks, making them race more similar to what they were like in 2017 and 2018.
Still, even in those races, laps led were important. Busch led 187 laps in the 2017 playoff race while Martin Truex Jr. led 112. Truex also led 137 laps in that year's regular-season race. No matter the package, laps led have been important.
Most often, those laps led have come from drivers starting right at the front. Six of the eight drivers who led 80 or more laps started in the top five. Five of them came from the front row. Hamlin last year led 113 laps after starting 23rd, but that's very much the exception rather than the norm.
We've been emphasizing getting drivers up front ever since the end of the COVID-19 layoff due to the manner the starting order has been set. With the top 12 teams in owner points again occupying the top 12 spots in the race, you would expect laps led to come from the front. But at least for this week, it does seem like we should care about where drivers draw within those top 12 spots.
Because of the difficulty of passing here in the past, we should give a bump up to studs who draw near the very front of the pack. They don't necessarily need to draw on the front row, but those drivers would deserve another bump up, as well. Although the fastest drivers may not necessarily start in the first couple rows thanks to the draw, track position matters and will make a difference on Sunday.
If there's a driver you like a lot who draws in the back half of the top 12, you can still use them; you'll just likely want to pair them with another driver who's starting closer to the front.
In last year's race, Hamlin did lead a bunch of laps from 23rd. But early on, it was Busch who led 118 laps because he started second. We've called this the "waves" strategy in the past. If you want a driver starting in the second wave, pair them with someone in the first wave who can lead laps while they pick their way through traffic.
New Hampshire's tough-to-pass ways also impact the way we select value plays.
FanDuel has been offering contests for the past two New Hampshire races. This means we have two perfect lineups to look at with one being in the 2019 package and one being in the 2018 version. Neither had many drivers who scooped big place-differential points.
Among the 10 drivers in those perfect lineups, only two started lower than 18th. One was Hamlin. The other was Ryan Newman, who started 26th last year.
This means even the value plays came from the front half of the pack, outside of Newman. This is a reflection of the track as passing is difficult. It doesn't mean we should randomly pick drivers starting near the front this weekend, though.
With the starting order being set by the draw system, we could get some opportunities to find place-differential candidates. The 13th-ranked team in owner points could start as low as 24th. Christopher Bell -- driving for the team that Matt DiBenedetto guided to a fifth-place finish at this track last year -- could start as low as 36th. There will be drivers projected to finish better than they're starting, and we can't just ignore that.
What we should do, though, is take extra time to determine whether the drivers starting further back have the juice to make up ground. If passing is tough, the speed discrepancy between a driver and the car in front of them needs to be greater in order for the trailing car to make a pass. So the truly fast cars starting further back will be able to make passes. When that speed gap is smaller, this might not happen.
The other implication of this is that it isn't damning if a value play you like draws toward the front end of their tier. As long as you are correct in expecting them to be fast, they should be able to hold that position, maybe scoop a couple extra, and pay off for DFS. Whereas we might otherwise ignore the drivers who draw the 13th or 14th spot, this gives us extra wiggle room to plug them in if we like them enough.
Data to Value
The key to all of this analysis, though, is knowing who will finish well. As mentioned at the top, that's a tough task for this weekend with such limited data at relevant tracks.
The two tracks most similar to New Hampshire thus far are Phoenix and Martinsville. They're both short, flat, and slow, and New Hampshire fits in all three buckets.
Phoenix is very much more similar to New Hampshire than Martinsville, but that's the one that took place before the layoff. We've seen team strength shift since that time, lowering the value in what we saw there a decent amount. However, if a driver was fast there, we probably should still expect them to be fast again on Sunday.
Martinsville is trickier because it is a true short track. However, it's still a better indicator than we'll get at other tracks, so we can put value in what we saw transpire there.
Outside of those two races, this might be one of the rare weeks where we amp up the value of track history. The Cup Series goes here just once per season, limiting that data, but it's likely a better hint at who will be fast than looking at recent races in Indianapolis or Kentucky. You'll want to proceed with caution on drivers who have changed teams since other New Hampshire races, but because equipment is less important here than it is elsewhere, we don't need to toss everything out altogether.
Once you gather all that data, you're still going to have questions around who will be fast. But so will everybody else in your contests. You're not at a disadvantage relative to the field; it's just that everybody's in the dark this time around.
Still, by turning to tracks like Phoenix and Martinsville and past races in New Hampshire, we should have a general idea of who will run well on Sunday. If they're starting in a position to lead laps -- or to pass slower cars around them -- that's where we want to pounce. It may feel uneasy to make decisions based on such faulty data, but as long as we're taking all of this into consideration, we should still be able to give ourselves a leg up on the competition.