NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Pala Casino 400
If you are looking for an action-packed way to consume sports on the weekend, NASCAR may be a great avenue to explore. Far from just driving in circles, some of the world's best compete nearly every weekend from February to November on tracks across America.
NASCAR drivers are scored ultimately based on how they finish in the race, how many spots they advance from their starting position, and how many laps they finish and lead. Avoiding drivers who crash out of the race is a must, though!
numberFire is always your home for fantasy NASCAR advice. In addition to this helper, Jim Sannes takes a look at the best bets of the weekend in his betting guide.
With all of this in mind, let's preview the Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway on FanDuel.
|Practice||Saturday, February 25th
2:05 p.m. EST
|Qualifying||Saturday, February 25th
2:50 p.m. EST
Last week, we had specific plays based on starting spot. I'd love to hand that out every week, but the grid will be set on Saturday most weeks moving forward.
NASCAR has remained with the joint practice-qualifying format from last year, packing the entirety of the weekend's action into a couple of hours. Last year, practice times were incredibly valuable early on with the new car, and once again, they'll be more valuable than the pre-race speculation I'll give you here.
As a result, a bulk of this helper is educated guessing. Jayski's weekend race page is a phenomenal source for the practice and qualifying data shortly after the sessions are complete, so don't feel like if you're busy on Saturday afternoon, you can't play NASCAR DFS this weekend. We'll have approximately 24 hours from the end of qualifying to lock to complete lineups.
If you're new to NASCAR daily fantasy, this weekend's race is very different than last week's. Daytona is a wild card of constant passing and mayhem. Auto Club Speedway shares some similarities as a two-mile oval with multiple grooves, but this flatter track doesn't involve drafting and also has significant tire wear that will shuffle the order.
General Lineup Strategy
Despite the five-to-six-lane-wide track, we usually see a trend of domination at Auto Club Speedway.
2022's new car added a few wrinkles, yet Tyler Reddick still won both of the first stages and led 90 laps. He likely would have led a boatload more if not for a tire failure, and the laps led were less concentrated with the best car out of the race.
In 2020, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney combined to lead 164 of the 200 laps. In 2019, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski led 176 of the 200 laps. If you want to have a lineup in a tournament that can take down the grand prize, you'll likely need that dominant driver (or two) in your lineups.
To round out your lineup, this is a track where you can target place-differential points with value plays, but it's not anything like last week where it's guaranteed to be optimal.
Of the previous 30 top-10 finishing cars in the past three years, just 7 of them started outside the top-15 spots. Of course, those seven were well-represented in perfect FanDuel lineups, but it's not off the table to snag a top-15 starter with speed instead.
Below are my pre-qualifying rankings for each driver based on equipment, track history, recent form, and overall talent level -- in that order. Only drivers with a win probability above 0% in Jim Sannes' win simulations were included.
As a great indicator of overall speed, MLT Rank is the driver's weighted average median lap time ranking at the relevant sample of similar race tracks to this weekend. The prior races in the sample this week are:
2022 Fontana (Spring) - 34%
2022 Michigan (Fall) - 33%
2022 Las Vegas (Fall) - 33%
For dominator viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale to potentially lead laps and win the race if they start upfront. A "10" is among the favorites to win the race, and a "0" has no realistic chance of leading the race at any point.
For flex play viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale of potentially finishing inside the top 15 spots. These drivers will be better daily fantasy plays the further back in the field they start for optimal place-differential points.
Though Kyle Larson ($14,000) is the defending winner and betting favorite, Jim's simulations and I tend to prefer the Denny Hamlin ($13,000) basket at the top.
Larson's win came well before an evident trend at the end of last year on intermediate ovals. Toyota won at Kansas with Bubba Wallace ($7,500), and Wallace also had the fastest median time at Las Vegas. This came on the heels of Hamlin posting the fastest median lap at Michigan, the series' last two-mile, non-drafting oval.
That trend is why you also see Christopher Bell ($12,500), Martin Truex Jr. ($10,500), and Tyler Reddick ($9,000) toward the top of the rankings, too. Reddick -- after leading 90 laps here last year in inferior equipment -- is my favorite play of the bunch and a great third swipe at a potential dominant car in the mid-range.
Joey Logano ($11,000) has struggled with high-end speed on huge tracks, but the tire wear component clearly helps. He had a top-five median time at Fontana and Las Vegas last year. William Byron ($10,000) started incredibly strong at this track type with the fastest median at Fontana last year, but he faded toward the end of last year. I want to see practice with him.
Byron's teammate Chase Elliott ($13,500) struggled on big tracks a year ago. He's actually got the slowest median blend of anyone above $10,000. His times were similar to Hendrick's fourth car driven by Alex Bowman ($8,500), but the salary discrepancy is enormous.
Reddick's performance last year shouldn't take us off Kyle Busch ($11,500) whatsoever. Busch is a four-time Fontana winner (three with the Toyota camp), but in addition to Reddick's speed, Erik Jones ($8,000) finished inside the top five. ECR engines have popped here with speed before, including a 2019 Austin Dillon ($7,200) pole effort.
Jones is worth his own note, though. He's eighth in my median lap blend and Jim's win simulations at a small salary. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see Jones contend for the win.
Trackhouse Racing had a better year on 1.5-mile ovals than the two larger ones, but Ross Chastain ($9,500) and Daniel Suarez ($6,800) still have a top-15 average median lap time ranking in this blend -- and salaries below their average marks last year.
It would not be surprising to see contenders emerge from deep in the player pool. Hamlin's teammate Ty Gibbs ($6,000) would be a bit of a surprise in his first Cup Series start at Fontana, but Austin Cindric ($5,800) would be less surprising in his second stint.
Chase Briscoe ($6,500), Aric Almirola ($6,200), Chris Buescher ($4,500), and Justin Haley ($4,000) are other drivers that could merit consideration with a poor qualifying effort if the practice times are decent. All have top-20 median blends in this sample.