Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Toyota/Save Mart 350

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Sonoma this week after a one-year hiatus. How should we fill out our NASCAR DFS lineups for the Toyota/Save Mart 350?

It's a week of good and bad news for DFS in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The bad news is that there's no practice or qualifying this week. Getting a taste of it in consecutive events only to have it ripped away once again is a cruel reality we'll still have to deal with the next few months.

The good news is that we already know the starting order for Sunday in Sonoma. And it's one that fits perfectly with our optimal strategy for daily fantasy.

Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 is another stop at a road course, leading to just a 90-lap race. By this point, we know exactly what that means for our lineup-building process on FanDuel. Let's run through what that is and how it impacts strategy for this week's race.

Back on the Place-Differential Bandwagon

Because Sunday's race is just 90 laps, we've got only 9.0 FanDuel points available for laps led. Whenever that's the case, we know the optimal strategy is to target place-differential drivers.

For a shorter race, fewer points are available for laps led. That lowers the ceiling for drivers starting up front. However, the finishing points and place-differential points remain the same, shifting the scales that direction relative to where they're at for longer races.

At Circuit of the Americas (COTA), this was a more complicated dynamic. They had qualifying on Sunday, meaning the fastest cars (for the most part) were at the front. As a result, two of the five drivers in the perfect lineup started in the top eight spots.

We don't have to worry about that this weekend, though. With no qualifying, the starting order was set by an algorithm that factors in where drivers finished on Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600. Finishing positions can be relatively random, so the starting order this week is much less efficient than it would be for a race with qualifying.

Because of this, two of the top four drivers in my model's projected average running position are starting outside the top 12. Two of the top 12 drivers will start in the back half of the field, and you've got some lively options beyond them starting further back, as well.

We saw an exaggerated version of this in the second race of the year at the Daytona roval. In that perfect lineup, not a single driver started in the top 10 spots.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
A.J. Allmendinger $12,000 34th 2
Joey Logano $10,700 11th 10
Alex Bowman $9,000 36th 0
Kurt Busch $9,000 17th 2
Christopher Bell $7,600 12th 5

That shows the viability of this strategy. If you find fast drivers starting further back, you should build around them. That's how we optimally want to play things this week.

Realistically, though, we won't be able to squeeze place-differential out of all five slots. Even with the aforementioned exceptions, it's also true that seven of the top 10 drivers in my model are starting ninth or higher with another in 11th and one more in 13th. Plus, of the top 18 drivers, only one is starting lower than 20th. So although we will skew toward the drivers who fit our optimal build, it's still very likely the top 10 will be populated by drivers starting near the front.

As such, a more realistic model of a perfect lineup is last year's Daytona roval race. That was the first to use the current algorithm to set the starting grid, and it came after a non-superspeedway race. There, similar to COTA, two drivers from the top eight made the perfect lineup.

Perfect LineupSalaryStartLaps Led
Chase Elliott$13,500 7th34
Denny Hamlin$12,000 2nd16
Jimmie Johnson$8,800 11th0
Chris Buescher$7,000 21st0
Michael McDowell$6,500 30th0

If the driver who wins starts up front, they're going to be in the perfect lineup. The 43 points for a win are too big for us to pass up. So, as a result, our two tentpole strategy pieces this week are the same as they were at COTA:

1. Pick an assumed winner and lock them into your lineup, and

2. Accept place-differential where you can find it.

The key difference is in the second part; we're more likely to find viable place-differential options this week than we were for that one.

Given that Martin Truex Jr. is starting back in 19th, it's very possible your assumed winner could also be a place-differential option. That would lead to a back-heavy lineup as it would suck up the 43 points for a win. But the first point means that if you're on the Chase Elliott side of the road-course duels, then you can still happily roll him out there even while he starts on the outside pole.

Although the idea of not forcing it with place-differential options is generally looped in with the studs, it's pertinent with value plays, too. Finishing points are massively valuable in a short race. You don't want to sacrifice those by using drivers with worse finishing upside just because they're starting deeper in the pack. If they don't have good finishing juice, they're a tough sell no matter how deep they're starting.

This will make the evaluation aspect of the game key once again this week. If you see a name that interests you starting deeper in the pack, dig into their resume. Do they have a top-15 or top-10 finish inside their range of outcomes? If yes, they're likely a good play thanks to the place-differential points. If not, it's wise to disregard them, pass up that plush starting spot, and drift closer to the front of the order.

All in all, strategy this week will wind up being very similar to COTA. We want to get our assumed winners and hunt for place-differential without forcing the issue in the latter department. We'll just have better options for place-differential here than we had before, especially with some likely contenders outside the front five rows. It should lead to a healthy deal of comfort when building lineups as we know what we're looking for but don't have to sacrifice driver quality to get there.