Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Coke Zero Sugar 400

The NASCAR Cup Series regular season ends Saturday night with the Coke Zero Sugar 400. How do the playoffs and the starting order impact our process for NASCAR DFS?

If you ever need evidence that NASCAR cares about the sanity of DFS players, look no further than the past month.

Within that time, the Cup Series decided to change its method for setting the starting order. Instead of grouping drivers by where their teams are in owner points, it's a modified formula that factors in points, their finish in the previous race, and fastest laps in that race.

This change happened right before the race at the Daytona road course, a track where we wanted to stack the back and load up on place-differential.

This week is more of the same. And if they had still been using the old method, we would have been scrambling to find viable drivers to fit our process.

Now, thanks to the new formula, there are actually logical plays we can find starting deeper in the pack. Those are the ones we want to focus on for Daytona in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Let's dig quickly into why this is the case. Then, we'll dig into some other factors influencing this race, including the push for the playoffs.

Stack the Back

Whenever we have a shorter race, we have to put a heavier emphasis on place-differential. The cars at the front have less upside via laps led, meaning if we want ceiling-type plays, they need juice via place-differential.

That's true on Saturday with the race being just 160 laps, giving us 16.0 FanDuel points for laps led. But Daytona as a track takes that to an extreme.

The reasoning there is that starting higher in the order does not necessarily predict a better finish. In fact, in last year's summer race, only one driver who started in the top 10 finished there; that was Kurt Busch, who finished 10th after starting 8th.

If it's a short race, and starting at the front is not a prerequisite for finishing there, the best plays will naturally come from further back. This is true no matter how the starting order is set.

Back in 2018, the starting lineup was set by qualifying, meaning the fastest cars in single-car runs were at the front. Despite that, four of the five drivers in the perfect lineup started 24th or lower. Nobody started in the top 12.

The year after, qualifying was rained out, so the field was set by owner points. Even then, the highest starting spot for a driver in the perfect lineup was 12th, and three drivers started 23rd or lower.

This week is a bit of a blend between the two. But it doesn't really matter; the optimal approach to Daytona will always be stacking the back.

That's going to be our overall creed for this week. In general, we should give preference to drivers starting further back who can rack up place-differential.

The one difference is that we do have leeway to roster drivers starting closer to the front if we think they can win. In the past, we've called this the "assumption game" for tournaments.

The basic gist is that you pick one driver you think will win the race. You plug them into your lineup as the winning driver will likely be in the perfect lineup regardless of where they start thanks to the 43 finishing points they earn. Then, you stack the back after that.

Only one driver will earn the 43 finishing points for a win, and once those are off the table, it's harder for drivers at the front to pay off in DFS. The assumption game lets you get a swipe at those 43 win points without completely capping your upside. This is a tournament-only approach as we do want to focus on the back in cash games, but it's one that can certainly pay dividends.

That covers the broad strategy for the week. But within each lineup, there are two other things to consider as they will play a key role this weekend: playoffs and team stacks. In some lineups, you may be considering both at the same time.

Playoffs and Team Stacks

Saturday's race is the final one before the Cup Series begins its 10-race playoffs. Plenty of drivers have already clinched their berth, whether by points or via a win. But there are still some big implications of the race.

The three drivers who are trying to earn their way into the playoffs via points are Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, and Jimmie Johnson. Assuming there's no new winner, two of those drivers will likely make the playoffs while a third misses. Right now, Johnson is four points behind Byron for the final spot and nine points behind DiBenedetto.

This could lead to the drivers valuing stage points over the win, which may influence their pit strategy late in stages. Instead of pitting if there were to be a caution late in a stage, they could choose to stay out in order to earn stage points. We don't get FanDuel points for stage finishes, so that does matter here.

However, it's not a major consideration because passing is fairly easy at Daytona. Instead, the playoffs may matter more when it comes to stacking.

All three of the drivers above have teammates (or, in DiBenedetto's case, quasi-teammates) who are already locked into the playoffs. As a result, those teammates may be extra inclined to help them on the track in order to increase the odds another teammate squeaks into the Round of 16. If they do so, and it results in a quality finish, we're likely to see some team stacks in the perfect lineup.

This is something we see even when the playoffs aren't at stake. Johnson and Byron were in the perfect lineup together in last year's summer Daytona race. Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars made it in the 2019 Daytona 500. The 2018 summer Daytona race had two drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing and two from JTG-Daugherty Racing all in the same lineup. Once you add in the playoff implications, we should expect stacks to play a role again this week.

Stacks are extra pertinent when you're playing the assumption game. Usually, the driver who wins the race has some help from a friend in getting there. So, if you want to play the narrative of Johnson making the playoffs, it's wise to stack him with his teammate, Chase Elliott, who is starting further back. You can toss Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in there as he drives for Chevy, as well. Playing those narratives and linking your assumed winner with teammates and others with the same manufacturer is an easy way to exploit the nature of these races.

These pack-racing tracks are always chaotic. This one will be especially so with the playoffs on the line.

But that promised chaos should only reinforce our regular process at these races. We want to load up on place-differential candidates and stack teams and manufacturers. Both those mindsets benefit from a chaotic race with massive implications, so even with extra spices in the mix this week, it's still in our best interest to maintain the status quo for what we've done in the past at Daytona.