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 rounds out the year with its championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let’s check it out.
It all comes down to this.
After 35 races, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is down to just four drivers eligible for the season-long championship. The field will still include as many as 40 drivers, but only Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch are eligible to hoist the championship trophy at the end of Sunday’s race. Whoever finishes the highest on Sunday is the champion.
Truthfully, drivers are going to try every week to get a win. So this shouldn’t alter our approach from a DFS perspective all that much. But with those four drivers having a clear motivational edge, it’s worthwhile to at least dig in and see what championship contenders have done in this race in the past. If they’ve consistently been the top options in the field, we’ll certainly want to account for that while filling out lineups.
This Sunday will be the sixth time NASCAR has held a winner-take-all championship race, all of which have been in Homestead. This gives us a five-race sample to look at and see whether we have any clear takeaways.
One way to do this is by just looking at where the championship four have finished in those races. This table shows that with the finishing spot of the highest-finishing driver in the championship in the left-hand column.
|In Homestead||Highest Finisher||Second Highest||Third Highest||Fourth Highest|
A driver in the championship has won all five races, they’ve swept the top two spots four times, and last year, the championship four were the top four drivers in the race. This makes sense anecdotally given that these are the drivers who qualified for the championship for a reason, but, yeah, we’re probably going to want these guys in our lineups (and “guys” is plural there intentionally).
At almost any track, you’re going to want the winner in your DFS lineup. They get 43 points just for the finish on FanDuel, so it’s superbly rare for the winner to not be in the perfect lineup. Given that the winner is very likely to be one of the drivers in the championship hunt, we’re going to want one of them in almost every lineup.
If you can afford it, there are clear upsides to having two of these drivers. The second-place finisher gets 40 points on FanDuel, and there’s a good chance they’ll lead some laps, too. With 267 laps Sunday, there are 26.7 FanDuel points available for laps led, which is a decent number. So it’s certainly never a bad idea to roster two of these drivers, and that would have been the ideal route for last year’s Homestead race.
|Perfect Lineup||Salary||Start||Laps Led|
Both Harvick and Joey Logano were in the championship four, and Logano won the race. There, it paid off to have both.
So, in general, we should allow the playoffs to influence our lineups this week moreso than others. We should seek out at least one of the championship four in almost every lineup, and we should go for two if we can find a way to afford it. These guys are likely to perform well, and we should account for that in our process.
Outside of that, Homestead is just another race at a 1.5-mile track, and we’ve got a good formula for how to attack those at this point in the season. Let’s look at that now so we know what to expect when building lineups on Sunday.
Sunday’s race will be the 10th time this year that the Cup Series has run at a 1.5-mile track using its new aero package. Thus, we’ve got 10 races of sample to draw from, and by now, our strategy is pretty cut and dry.
What we’ve seen all year long is that you can generate upside from anywhere in the starting order in this package. It has made passing easier, so even if you’re starting back in the middle of the pack, you’ve still got a path to leading laps and winning the race.
In the first nine similar races this year, a driver has led at least 25% of the laps (equivalent to 66.8 laps led this Sunday) 10 times. Of those 10 drivers, half started 10th or lower, and two came from outside the top 20.
Importantly, both of the instances in which a driver led a quarter of the laps after starting in the back half of the field occurred at 1.5-mile tracks with moderate banking. That’s what we’ll have in Homestead this weekend. Passes have not been difficult on this track type this year, and it allows us to get our studs from anywhere in the starting order.
This is advantageous for drivers starting further back because they are able to scoop up place-differential points along the way, and we should give those drivers a value boost in our minds as a result. But we can also freely target drivers starting closer to the front. With 267 laps in the race, there’s plenty of upside for a driver even if they can’t get place-differential points, and four of the drivers who led a quarter of the laps started on the front row. All four of those instances were done by Harvick, who is a part of the championship four.
Because of this, we shouldn’t worry too much about where the studs are starting the race. We should give a bump to those starting further back because they’ll have better floors and similar ceilings, but we also don’t need to ignore drivers starting closer to the front. Just pick the drivers you think are most likely to be pushing for a win late and go from there.
Another perk of this race being at a 1.5-mile track is that we have lots of recent data to look at in order to determine which drivers will perform the best. There have been three races during the playoffs at this track type, meaning they’re recent enough to account for each team’s progression or regression during the season. A close look at the races in Texas, Kansas, and Las Vegas (with increased emphasis on Kansas and Las Vegas due to their similar banking to Homestead) should give us a great idea of which drivers are primed to contend on Sunday.
We will also have at least five-lap averages to look at from the two practice sessions on Friday, and you can get that data from NASCAR.com’s race center. If most relevant drivers have 10-lap averages, then you can certainly bump the sample up to there. That data will be more valuable than single-laps speeds as it will filter out any mock qualifying runs the drivers make during those sessions.
It’s important to note that the current form data should likely hold a bit higher priority for us than what we see in practice. In the nine races similar to Homestead this year, the current form segment of my model has had a higher correlation to each driver’s average running position during the race seven times. Practice was tops for both Kansas races, but the others all went to current form. Track history has been the worst segment of the model in six of those races, and it’s even less relevant at a track where the Cup Series races just once per year like Homestead.
We should utilize this same data when trying to look for mid-range and value plays. If they grade out well there, they’re probably going to be valuable options for DFS.
The target range for value plays will be the drivers starting between 15th and 25th. The drivers in that range are likely fast enough to post a good finish, but they are also starting low enough to pick up place-differential points during the race. That’s super valuable, and we should covet that when we can find it.
Drivers starting higher than that range are certainly in play, too, as long as we think they can pump out a top-five or so finish. In Texas, both Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez were starting in the top seven spots, but they had good speed in both of the practice sessions. That made them fully acceptable plays, and they came through with second- and third-place finishes, respectively. That formula is absolutely an option. We just have to make sure — by using current form and practice data — that a high-end finish is within their range of outcomes.
The same logic would be true if a value play were to start even deeper in the pack. We just don’t need quite as good of a finish in that scenario. If they have an issue in qualifying that forces them start further back but have enough speed to generate a top-15 finish, then we can trust them. It’ll just be extra important to dig into the speeds to ensure that such a finish is something they can muster.
Overall, it’s a pretty straightforward week, and that’s a good note on which to end the season. Consider the championship implications, see if you can squeeze two of the contenders into a lineup, and then use the formula discussed above. Just because it’s the championship race doesn’t mean we have to overcomplicate things, and Homestead should present us with an opportunity to keep things simple and target the drivers we think have the best speed for Sunday.