Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Dover Double-Header
Entering 2020, we'd never seen the NASCAR Cup Series double-dip with back-to-back points-paying races at the same track.
Now, just a few months later, it's run-of-the-mill. We actually know how to handle these double-headers when filling out our DFS lineups.
It has been simple thus far: play the first race straight up, and then stack the middle of the pack in the second. Nothing to it!
But hold on there, buckaroos. This week, we get a little twist in our formula. We'll still get some common threads for the second race, but this time around, it's going to be more complicated.
At Dover, the NASCAR Cup Series will run the Drydene 311 on both Saturday and Sunday. They could have changed the name for one of the races to make things easier on us content people, but whatever. There are better hills to die on.
Because Dover is a one-mile track, that means there will be 311 laps in both races. For the most part, the second halves of these double-headers have been shorter races. In a shorter race, we can afford to stack the middle, passing on the upside available for laps led. But with 31.1 FanDuel points available for laps led on Sunday, we may not have that leniency.
As such, we've got to reset a bit before the weekend. We have to decide when we should look for laps led and when we should hunt for place-differential. It's not an easy dilemma, but it's one we've got to discuss if we're going to fill out good lineups. So let's start with Saturday and then dive into strategies for Sunday.
Saturday's race may be one of the most normal we've had in a long time. It still presents us with the dilemma of laps led versus place-differential, but it's one we haven't had to face since the beginning of the COVID-19 layoff.
This is the second race in which NASCAR has used its new method for setting the starting order. Instead of having the top 12 in owner points occupy the top 12 spots, the order was set by a combination of owner points, finishing position, and fastest laps from the past race. As a result, guys like Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Aric Almirola -- who previously would have started inside the top 12 -- are starting 17th or lower.
Those drivers do have place-differential juice. But with their salaries where they're at, there's some opportunity cost tied to them, as well.
Since the implementation of stage racing, the Cup Series has run six races at Dover. In those six races, 11 drivers have led at least 100 laps in a race; none of them started outside the top 13. Seven of the 11 drivers started within the first two rows. We can relax those standards a bit this week with the starting order being set by an algorithm rather than speed, but it's hard to lead laps if you're not starting at the front.
The most laps led by any driver in this time who started outside the top 15 was 39. That was by Brad Keselowski in the 2017 playoff race. So if you use one of the drivers starting further back, you are sapping some upside from your roster.
As a result of this, perfect lineups at Dover tend to be populated with drivers starting close to the front. Of the 20 drivers in perfect lineups for the past four Dover races, 15 started within the top 15 spots in the race. On average, each lineup had 328.25 laps led within it. Obviously, that number will be lower this weekend with the race being trimmed, but laps led are still going to be key.
With this in mind, it does seem like Saturday's race should be similar to recent races even with the potential for place-differential at some spots: our studs should be drivers starting near the front who can jump out and rack up laps led. The appeal in Busch, Blaney, and Almirola takes a dent due to this, but it seems to be a necessary dent.
We should be more willing to use drivers starting closer to the front in our mid-range and value plays, too. If we can get laps led out of our mid-range plays, it'll give our lineup an extra nudge of upside that certainly wouldn't hurt. And the odds we find someone starting super deep in the pack who can boogie their way forward and get a great finish seem lower here than most places.
All in all, Saturday seems pretty straight forward. We're skewing closer to the front than usual in hopes of pinning drivers who will get us upside via laps led. Busch, Blaney, and Almirola can still pay off if someone who leads a bunch of laps wrecks, so they don't need to be tossed out of our player pool entirely, but we do need to be lower on them than we usually would be for drivers in position to get place-differential.
Sunday's race is a lot more complicated with the way the order will be set.
As with past double-headers, the starting order will be set by an invert. The top 20 finishers from Saturday's race will flip with the winner starting 20th and the person who finishes 20th starting 1st. That's going to change the dynamic in a big way.
The fastest cars on Sunday are all going to be starting in the middle of the pack. That's not something we'll likely see Saturday, and it's definitely not something we've seen in recent races at Dover. So, do we ride with them, or do we sell out for laps led again?
The correct approach here is likely a blend, and it depends on who winds up starting where. I realize that's a sucky answer, but it's 2020; at least we all know how to handle disappointment.
The drivers starting in the middle of the pack -- the ones who finish in the top five on Saturday -- are going to still be able to finish well. Our best example of this comes from Kevin Harvick in the fall 2015 race.
That weekend, qualifying was rained out, and Harvick started 15th. He took the lead on lap 24 and led 355 of 400 laps. That's simply a bananas effort.
The takeaway from this (outside of Harvick being a robot) is that you can lead laps from further back as long as your car is fast enough. The cars that finish well on Saturday will have already proven that, so we should build around them for DFS once again.
That doesn't mean we have to fade the front entirely, though. That's especially true if a viable car finds itself near the front of the pack.
We've seen this a couple of times in these double-headers. Clint Bowyer led 43 laps in the second race at Michigan and 71 in Darlington, Kurt Busch led 35 in Pocono, Alex Bowman led 51 in Charlotte. All four times, the drivers finished 16th or worse in the first race, but because they were starting among cars that didn't have the same speed as them, they were able to run out front for a while.
None of those drivers wound up in the perfect lineup for that race, and that does matter. Laps led are irrelevant if you can't turn it into a good finish. This week is different, though.
Because Dover is just a mile in length, you can tick off laps in a hurry. Laps take less than 25 seconds to complete, so if you get the lead, those points will add up quickly.
The opening stage on Sunday is 70 laps long. If one driver can control that stage, that's 7.0 FanDuel points, which gives you more wiggle room from a finishing perspective. As such, we should try to look for drivers starting near the front who are capable of snagging that lead and holding it while the studs work their way forward.
The optimal situation is that a mid-range play shows speed on Saturday but has some sort of issue that sinks their finishing position. If this happens and they start up front on Sunday, we can afford to plug them in for DFS. They've already shown speed in this car and on this track, and their salary may be forgiving enough to still let us snag two of the top finishers from Saturday's race.
But just overall, it's smart to take a long look at the driver's starting near the front on Sunday. If any of them has more speed than the others starting around them, we can afford to plug them in. Our core plays should still be those starting in the middle of the pack because they'll have both place-differential and laps-led upside, but for tournaments, exposure to some drivers at the front isn't a bad thing.
Sunday should also give us value plays in position to get place-differential. Dover can be a high-chaos track, meaning we're probably going to see some wrecks. With the drivers who finish outside the top 20 starting effectively where they finish, a wreck on Saturday can make you a value on Sunday. The same would be true if a stud were to have issues on Saturday and start super far back, as long as you have faith that they'll be fast after the reset.
To sum it all up, Sunday's race does have parallels to other second halves of double-headers. We still want to load up on those who dominate on Saturday, and there will be value in buying low on those who finish in the back. The difference is that there's now legitimate appeal in the drivers starting closer to the front, as long as we think they've got the speed to control the race early on.