The Setup – NASCAR 101
By Tyler Miller
The 2020 NASCAR season is here and we are ready to make this the best season ever. Whether you are an experienced NASCAR DFS player or you are putting a lineup together for the first time, this article will walk you through the basics of NASCAR DFS, scoring on both Fan Duel and Draft Kings, key stats, and strategies for a profitable season.
The Basics: Just like any other sport, NASCAR DFS requires assembling a lineup, staying under a salary cap, and scoring the most points possible. Points are awarded for finishing positions, laps led, laps run, fastest laps run, and differential (the difference between starting position and finishing position). NASCAR races at a variety of different race tracks including short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways, and road courses. The style of race track is important for determining a proper mix of contest selection. I advocate for playing mostly cash games on intermediate tracks, mostly tournaments on superspeedways and road courses, and somewhere in-between on short tracks. Typically I play 80/20 (80% cash, 20% tournament) for intermediate tracks, 25/75 for superspeedway and road courses, and 60/40 for short tracks. I play mostly cash games at intermediate race tracks because they are the most predictable, races tend to be calmer with less wrecks and typically have a clear cut favorite following final practice. Superspeedways and road courses are much less calm and at times are completely unpredictable. With this increased level of risk I like having the opportunity for an increased reward. Short tracks fall somewhere in-between with the potential of complete unpredictability mixed with a dominant car being able to lead hundreds of laps en route to victory. In NASCAR, I define cash games as single entry 50/50 contests and single entry double ups.
Fan Duel Scoring: Fan Duel offers traditional NASCAR contests and NASCAR QP or quick pick contests. In traditional NASCAR contests players have $50,000 in salary to choose five drivers. In the QP format, players select drivers who fall in the following categories: dominator, contender, underdog, and field. Most NASCAR contests are in the traditional format.
Fan Duel scores drivers on a 1-38 scale for positions 40th thru 3rd. 40th position, typically last place depending on number of entries, gets 1 point, 39th gets 2 points and so on thru 3rd place which receives 38 points. Second place gets 40 points, 2 more than 3rd place, and the winner is awarded 43 points, 3 more than 2nd place.
Fan Duel awards drivers 0.1 points per lap completed, 0.1 points per lap led, and 0.5 points per differential. Awarding points per lap completed, which Draft Kings does not do, puts a premium on finishing races on the lead lap, particularly at short tracks where the races are 400 to 500 laps in length. Using Bristol, a 500 lap race as an example: Driver A finishes the race in 35th after wrecking on lap 150 and Driver B finishes the race 30th but stays out of trouble and is only 5 laps down at the end of the race. Assuming neither driver led any laps and both qualified where they finished, Driver A would be awarded 21 points (6 for finishing 35th, and 15 for finishing 150 laps). Driver B would be awarded 60.5 points (11 for finishing 30th, and 49.5 for finishing 495 laps). So even though Driver B only placed five positions ahead of Driver A, Driver B scored nearly triple the amount of points on Fan Duel because they stayed out of trouble and ran the whole race. This is why a driver’s history of running every lap and not crashing is important, particularly when looking at value options on Fan Duel.
Differential points are awarded based on official starting position. Most of the time the official starting position is where the driver qualified, though sometimes drivers fail pre-race or post-qualifying inspection and their times are disallowed. In these instances the drivers official starting position will be at the back of the field. These instances create great opportunities for cashing in on differential points. For example: If Driver A qualified 4th and Driver B qualified 3rd but Driver A’s time was disallowed for failing pre-race inspection and was awarded an official starting position of 38th, Driver A would likely be a must play in any DFS format. In this scenario, if Driver A came through the field and finished 5th and Driver B ran up front all day and finished 2nd, Driver A would be a much better play because of the 16.5 differential points Driver A got for improving his starting position from 38th to 5th (33 positions, 0.5 point per differential). There are instances where drivers are required to drop to the back of the field at the start of the race but keep their original starting position so it is important to double check the official starting positions before making any lineup changes. NASCAR rules can be difficult to understand, so it is always best to double check lineups and keep an eye on news during a race weekend.
Laps led is straight forward, 0.1 points are awarded for each lap led throughout the race. Again, when races are 400-500 laps, it is of increased importance to choose drivers who will lead laps because there could be 2-3 drivers with over 100 laps led in a short track race. It would be difficult to cash in a contest if you don’t have any of those drivers in your lineup.
Draft Kings Scoring: Draft Kings offers classic NASCAR contests which consists of 6 driver lineups. Draft Kings scores 2nd place thru 40th at 1 point intervals (4 points for 40th, 42 points for 2nd). First place is awarded 46 points on Draft Kings, 4 more points than 2nd place. Draft Kings offers a full point for differential, 0.25 points for laps led, and 0.5 points for fastest laps run. In most, but not all, instances the leader of the race will be running the fastest laps. Since Draft Kings awards 0.5 points for fastest laps run and 0.25 points for laps led it is much more important to have the driver who leads the most laps. There were instances last year when one driver dominated a race and that driver doubled up second place on DK. Depending on ownership, this can make it nearly impossible to cash without that one driver in your lineup.
Since Draft Kings does not award any points per lap run, value drivers who do not improve their position are much less valuable than they are on Fan Duel. For example: If you select a driver who qualified 30th because you think he has a good chance to improve his position by 10+ and finish in the teens but he only finishes 25th, you are only awarded 24 points (19 for the position and 5 for differential). If that driver finished 25th and ran finished on the lead lap while every other driver who finished behind him ran into issues and was multiple laps down at the end of the race, it doesn’t matter, they are still scored only 1 point per position behind your driver. Another issue to consider is that drivers are more likely to score single digit or even negative points on Draft Kings because of the full point differential and no points for completing laps. For example: If you pick a high salary driver who qualified 5th but he runs into issues and goes several laps down early and finishes 20th, he scores 9 points on DK (24 for finishing 20th and -15 for losing 15 positions). The impact of such a scenario is lessened and easier to overcome on Fan Duel if other drivers crash out of the race and your driver is awarded points per lap run.
Key Stats: The first stat I look at in preparation for a race weekend is driver rating. Driver rating is a little bit like Quarterback rating in football. No one is really sure what the formula is, but it is easy to tell the difference between a good rating and a bad rating. In NASCAR, a driver rating of 100 or greater at any track is really good. Driver rating accounts for how well drivers race at a track and excludes outliers likes wrecks and mechanical failures which are often out of the drivers control. Looking at average finish can be deceiving because if a driver ran up front all day but had a bad pit stop or a pit road penalty late in the race their average finish would indicate a poor performance where a driver rating would be a more accurate representation of their race. Here is NASCAR’s explanation of driver rating: “Driver rating is a NASCAR statistic that combines wins, finishes, top-15 finishes, average running position while on lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, led most laps and lead-lap finish. Driver ratings are tabulated for the year, and also on a per-race basis. A perfect rating in a single race is 150.0.” When I look at driver ratings I am typically looking at a driver’s driver rating for that particular track throughout their entire career.
The second stat I look at is average running position (ARP). ARP is simply the driver’s average place throughout the race. Again, this is more indicative of how a race went for a driver than finishing position. If a driver ran in the mid-pack all day but used pit strategy late in the race to get the win, their ARP would more accurately reflect their performance compared to finishing position.
Another stat that I look at is laps led, and more specifically the percentage of laps led. This stat is important in identifying how younger drivers are doing at a specific race track. For example, this list was included in The Setup for the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway:
1. Jimmie Johnson 1112 (11.5% of laps run)
2. Kyle Busch 930 (10.3)
3. Brad Keselowski 639 (8.7)
4. Martin Truex Jr 605 (6.5)
5. Kevin Harvick 493 (5.1)
6. Joey Logano 438 (6.0)
7. Kurt Busch 333 (3.4)
8. Denny Hamlin 277 (3.1)
9. Ryan Blaney 233 (7.9)
This tells us a few things: First of all, Jimmie Johnson has led over a thousand laps at Texas which is over 11% of all the laps he’s run at the track. Ryan Blaney has not led nearly as many laps as the rest of the lap leaders, but his number (233) represents nearly 8% of the laps he’s ran at the track. This shows that he is above average at the track compared to the rest of the lap leaders. Taking this a step further, I would look at the list of drivers who have led the most laps at the track and then look and see when the last time was that they led laps at this track. While Jimmie Johnson has led an impressive amount of laps at Texas, a quick glance at his career finishes show that he led most of those laps between 2012 and 2014. On the other hand, Kyle Busch has led laps at Texas in 11 of his last 14 races, including the most laps led in 2 of the last 4.
Another important stat to consider is average lap speed during final practice. NASCAR provides us with average speed during practice in 5 lap intervals through 30 lap runs. This statistic is probably the most accurate in determining a race favorite during the course of the weekend. There are a few things to consider when looking at average speed during final practice. I typically look to see if there is a clear cut fastest overall in the 10-20 lap category. Also, it is important to see who’s practice speeds don’t match up with their starting position. If a driver qualified 20th but ran practice speeds in the top 10 or even top 15 over a 10 lap average then he should be strongly considered in DFS for scoring potential.
Good luck to everyone as we get ready for another NASCAR season. If you have any questions about NASCAR DFS please reach out to me on twitter @RickyBobby_Jr or on Discord (tmiller128).