One of the unique challenges with daily fantasy NASCAR is that every track is different. Not only does this mean that certain drivers will perform better at one place than another, but each track will have different scoring tendencies than the previous one. That means we need to alter our strategies pretty drastically.
Each week here on numberFire, we’re going to dig into the track that’s hosting the upcoming weekend’s race to see what all we need to know when we’re setting our lineups. We’ll have a separate piece that looks at drivers who have excelled there in the past; here, we just want to know about the track itself. Once qualifying has been completed, we’ll also have a primer detailing which drivers fit this strategy and should be in your lineup for that week.
This week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is heading back to Michigan for the Consumers Energy 400. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let’s check it out.
If you need a race from the early parts of 2019 that accurately reflects some of the frustrations around the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ new aero package, Michigan is your promised land.
The intention of the new rules package was to make passing easier to amp up the action during the race. In a lot of ways, they’ve been successful in that endeavor.
The big exception is the car out front. You can maneuver your way through the pack to get up to second pretty easily, but passing the leader is a whole separate issue.
Joey Logano won that race, leading a whopping 163 of 203 laps, more than Kyle Larson led combined in winning three straight Michigan races in 2016 and 2017. Logano turned the fastest lap just seven times in that race, but the cars behind him still couldn’t make the pass. That has been a common issue in the package, and it showed up most readily in the first race at this track.
That’s not to say that passing was difficult everywhere. There were more green-flag passes in that race than any of the previous four Michigan races, and the correlation between each driver’s starting position and his finishing position was lower than normal.
|Race||Green-Flag Passes||Cor. Between Start and Finish|
You could make passes… as long as the car in front of you was not the leader.
This gives us a bit of a dilemma from a DFS perspective. On the one hand, passing is possible in the middle of the pack, which gives us the potential to snag place-differential points. On the other, there are 20 points available for laps led on FanDuel, and a lot of them could be controlled by a small number of drivers. How should we prioritize each scoring category?
Let’s look back at some past Michigan races to see what we can learn and what that means for building rosters on Sunday.
In theory, the increased passing in the middle of the pack in Michigan should have put several drivers who started in the middle of the pack in the perfect lineup. If people were making passes, you would think they’d convert that into place-differential points and benefit fantasy teams.
Those place-differential drivers were there. But they just didn’t come cheap.
In all, five drivers finished at least 10 spots better than they started. But three of them had salaries of $10,500 or higher, and two were $14,500 or higher, the two most expensive drivers in the field. With Logano being a must at $13,500, it would have been hard to squeeze those guys into the same lineup as Logano.
In other words, there were place-differential points available; there just weren’t realistic place-differential points once you locked in Logano and his lofty salary.
As a result, three drivers who wound up in the perfect lineup started in the top 10.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Start||Laps Led|
Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher both started in the middle of the pack or deeper and finished at least 10 spots better than they started. They’re good value plays who took advantage of the increased passing.
Kurt Busch and Daniel Suarez, though, were just moderately-priced drivers who pumped out big finishing points. We have to be willing to look at drivers fitting that mold when filling out rosters.
A big part of the reason that the correlation between starting position and finishing position was lower was that Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. started deeper in the pack, worked their way forward, and finished well. But they still didn’t do enough to pay off for DFS because Logano was required at such a high salary.
Even though passing was up generally, it wasn’t up among value plays. That would alter our process for DFS if it were to be an assumed factor again this weekend.
Based on past races in Michigan, it likely should be.
In both perfect FanDuel lineups last year, there were multiple drivers who had salaries in the mid- or lower-tier who didn’t win, started near the front, and still cracked the optimal five. Here’s the lineup from the June race.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Starting Position||Laps Led|
Clint Bowyer won that race, but both Kurt Busch and Paul Menard started in the top 15, didn’t win, and made the perfect lineup. Then Busch did it again in the August race.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Starting Position||Laps Led|
That time, it was Austin Dillon joining Busch. Maybe the rule should just be to roster Kurt Busch no matter what.
There’s a reason this is happening, and it has nothing to do with the package. It’s all about Michigan as a track.
Michigan is a huge, sweeping, two-mile oval where speeds get crazy high. Logano won the pole this year — even in a car with just 550 horsepower — at a speed of more than 187 miles per hour.
This creates a level of separation between the teams that have speed and those that do not. At some tracks, where drivers get off the gas, drivers can make up for poor equipment by driving aggressively and being more efficient in the corners. Here, they don’t get that chance, and it often prevents super cheap drivers from climbing to the top of the finishing board.
In the three Michigan races where FanDuel has offered contests, only two drivers with salaries under $8,000 have logged a top-10 finish. The best finish by a driver with a salary under $7,000 was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when he finished 18th in last year’s August race, and you’re not getting a ton of FanDuel points out of a guy who finishes 18th.
Basically, it’s tough to punt at Michigan, which forces you to create more balanced rosters. There’s not a lot of attrition to push drivers running further back forward, so if you want the requisite finishing points to cash in tournaments, punting becomes far less viable.
There are a couple of takeaways for us from a DFS perspective.
First, we need to prioritize speed. If a team doesn’t have it, their odds of having a great day for DFS are much lower.
You can use practice times to determine this, but the best data will come from current form, specifically at tracks where speed is necessary. This would partly apply to the two Pocono races, but our best indicators are likely the June race in Michigan and the March race in Fontana. Those are the two-mile ovals on the schedule, and both featured a ton of speed for the entire race. Michigan will give us the best data because it was more recent, meaning it’ll better reflect which teams have made gains as the season has gone along.
Second — and there is overlap here with the first point — we’ll want to favor more balanced lineups. Punting will likely leave us with lackluster finishing points. Balanced lineups, however, can get us five drivers who crank out a top-10 finish, and if you nail that, you will likely score just fine for DFS, regardless of where the drivers start.
This means we could potentially wind up ignoring quality drivers starting a bit further back. As we saw with Busch and Truex in June, if a super expensive driver qualifies poorly, they still likely need a win or a chunk of laps led in order to pay off in DFS. This is especially true if the eventual winner is another high-salaried driver as it will be difficult to afford both without punting.
If you find a mid-tier driver who you think can win the race, then you can absolutely pluck one of those studs starting further back. That’s a possibility as Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, and William Byron all have salaries between $10,600 and $8,800 and could realistically win the race. If you think they will do so, then you could use them and then take advantage of place-differential points elsewhere, but those drivers also have those reduced salaries for a reason.
There are a couple other situations in which place-differential points become a bigger focus.
The first is if a stud driver qualifies way in the back due to an issue in qualifying. If that were to happen — and they showed enough speed in Saturday’s session to show that the qualifying run was a fluke — you would want to go hard at them. An exceptionally low starting position would give them enough upside via place differential where you wouldn’t necessarily need them to win the race to pay off. You could even justify punting if this were to happen as it could give you extra upside to have that driver paired with an expensive driver who can lead laps closer to the front.
The second is if a fast mid-tier or value play slips up in qualifying. If they do that, and their current form and practice times show they can finish well, they’ll be a quality DFS option. Passing in the middle of the pack is easy if a car is fast enough, meaning their path to a plus finish isn’t that arduous.
We can take these drivers onto our rosters if they’re available to us; we just have to make sure we’re not forcing it. If the finishing upside isn’t there, then we’re best suited biting the bullet and using drivers starting higher in the order.
The name of the game for Michigan is judging speed. You want it on your rosters across the board.
If you can find that speed starting lower in the order, it’ll be pretty attractive for DFS because passing should be fairly easy for fast cars.
You’ll also want to identify which of the cars starting up front have the best speed. The driver leading the pack will have a massive advantage in this rules package, potentially allowing them to control the race like Logano did back in June. If they can use their speed to get out front early, they may not relinquish that lead for a while.
Finally, if you can find the aforementioned speed in a cheap play, feel free to shove them into your lineups. That’s just not super likely to happen based on what has gone down in the past at Michigan. Things could always change over the weekend, but balanced rosters have seemed to be the ideal route in the past, and we should assume they will be the optimal strategy again unless data from this weekend tells us otherwise.