Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Goodyear 400
This week in NASCAR is all about having dual focuses.
In the real world, it's a focus on both the past and the future. On Wednesday, the Cup Series unveiled the Next-Gen cars for each manufacturer. These cars will see their first green flag in 2022, ideally ushering a new era of team ownership that's easier on the pocketbooks. On Sunday, a bunch of cars are running throwback paint schemes to honor past drivers, a now-annual welcomed stroll down nostalgia alley.
Here in fantasy land, we've also got a pair of focuses. We want laps led, but we also want place-differential. Getting the proper balance of both will be key to filling out sick lineups.
Luckily for us, we've got options in both departments. Let's dig into the composition of the race and outline why this should be our focus and what we need to keep in mind for the Goodyear 400.
Multiple Sources of Upside
Sunday's race is 293 laps long, which is longer than what we had last week in Kansas but shorter than places like Atlanta and Richmond. We've got 29.3 FanDuel points available for laps led, which is more than enough to move the needle for lap-leaders.
In last year's 293-lap race at Darlington, the starting order was set by a blend of owner points and a draw. The "best" cars were up front, and it led to those drivers monopolizing the laps led.
Kevin Harvick made the perfect lineup thanks to 159 laps led and a win. Alex Bowman led 41 laps at a salary of $10,600 and finished second, allowing him to join Harvick in the perfect lineup. He also started second, meaning two of the five drivers in the perfect lineup started in the front three rows.
The other three slots were filled by drivers starting 22nd, 29th, and 34th. You can make passes here, so if you find a driver with speed starting further back, they're viable for DFS.
That second point is relevant for us this week when looking at the studs, potentially even moreso than the value plays.
Thanks to some rough breaks late in Kansas, Kyle Larson ($13,000) is starting 14th, and Bowman ($11,000) is starting 19th. Both rank inside the top seven in projected average running position in my model, meaning they do carry place-differential juice. They should be fast enough to make passes here and move through the pack, and the starting position gives them a floor boost.
The issue is that both carry high salaries, meaning that if you use them, it's tougher to use lap-leaders. The two names that top my model are Denny Hamlin ($14,000) and Martin Truex Jr. ($13,500), and jamming in one of them alongside both Larson and Bowman isn't easy. So, how should we play things?
It goes back to what we discussed before: a dual focus. It's totally fine to use Larson and Bowman as both are going to grade out as quality plays. You'll just likely want to pair them with a lap-leader so that you don't miss out on upside as they work their way forward.
When discussing this strategy before, we've called it the "wave" approach. If you want to shoot for place-differential (a "wave two" driver), you want to make sure you have a "wave one" driver who can lead laps early. This allows you to dip your toes in both buckets and not ignore quality plays.
This doesn't mean you have to use the waves approach. If you think that Larson and Bowman will under-perform and fail to contend for a win, you absolutely have the leeway to target a handful of drivers at the front and ignore the place-differential guys. There are enough laps in the race to justify that approach. We just want to keep the waves in mind when we do decide to use a stud slot on a place-differential target.
Based on last year's perfect lineup, it would seem wise to gun for place-differential within our value plays. That's true in theory, especially given that Darlington can feature some attrition. We just want to make sure we aren't digging deeper in the pack for no reason.
Going back to the projected average running positions, only one driver starting outside the top 20 ranks in the top 18 in my model. That's Christopher Bell ($9,000), who starts 21st. To find someone deeper in the pack than Bell, you have to dip to Aric Almirola ($7,500), who ranks 19th in projected average running position and will start 27th. There aren't a ton of obvious options starting further back who could get a good enough finish to pay off.
This will likely lead to targeting some mid-range and value plays closer to the front and just shooting for finishing points. As an example, Austin Dillon ($7,800) grades out as a better DFS play in my model than Cole Custer ($6,500) even though Custer is starting 15 spots deeper in the pack. We can go for place-differential if you think someone in the back will have speed, but we shouldn't sacrifice good finishes to get it.
All of this combined is going to lead to a very different approach than what we saw in last year's perfect lineup. The two-lap-leader route is still in play, for sure. But we have a couple of studs worth targeting deeper in the field, and it seems super unlikely we get three values starting in the back half of the pack. It's another evaluation-heavy week where we have to dig in, see which drivers we expect to push for wins and top-10s, and target them even if that means taking on increased risk with a high starting position.