Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 and Consumers Energy 400
Let's race two, everybody.
For the fourth time this year, the NASCAR Cup Series is set to double-dip with back-to-back races at the same track. This time around, they're up in Michigan for the FireKeepers Casino 400 and the Consumers Energy 400.
Don't let the names fool you; for once, the numbers don't actually represent the number of miles in the race. Because of the double-header, both races will be just 312 miles long, which equates to 156 laps apiece. Why did they keep the 400 in the titles? Great question! No idea. But it does make a big difference for DFS.
Both races will use different methods for setting the starting lineup, as well. So, even though both races are in Michigan, they're totally different ballgames from a DFS perspective.
Let's get into why that's the case and outline our optimal approaches for each race. We'll start things off on Saturday, which will be the more complicated of the two.
FireKeepers Casino 400
Saturday's race will look similar to what we've seen recently in the Cup Series: a starting order set by owner points and a draw.
In that sense, it's familiar. The big difference here is that with just 156 laps, we have only 15.6 FanDuel points available for laps led. That's not a big number at all.
If we're looking for parallels since the end of the COVID-19 layoff, we should turn to the first Pocono race and the race in Indianapolis. The two tracks are different from Michigan because they are super flat, but they were shorter races that had the same method for setting the starting order. Both of them saw huge upside in drivers starting further back.
Of the 10 drivers in perfect lineups for those races, six started in the back half of the field. Half were drivers ranked in the bottom third in owner points, meaning they started between 25th and 36th.
If you're a veteran NASCAR DFS player, this isn't a shock. In a shorter race, the easiest path to upside is via place-differential points. The upside for drivers at the front via laps led is capped while the place-differential equation is the exact same.
The Indianapolis race might not be a tight parallel for Saturday as it was effectively a wreck fest. In the past four Michigan races, only 17 drivers have failed to finish; there were 12 in that one Indy race alone. A demo derby further pushes us toward the back, and that shouldn't be the expectation for Michigan.
But the Pocono race also favored the back with two drivers outside the top 24 in owner points cracking the perfect lineup. So in general, we should be intrigued by scooping place-differential.
There are two caveats there, though. First, we don't necessarily need those drivers to start outside the top 24. The drivers who draw toward the bottom end of the tier between 13th and 24th will also stand out, and those teams have had better seasons than those outside the top 24. With how much speed and equipment matter in Michigan, we might want to favor them over the bottom-dwellers, unless you can have faith in the speed of someone in the bottom tier.
The second caveat is that we shouldn't ignore the drivers starting in the top 12. In Pocono, three drivers made the perfect lineup after starting up there. One of them was a value in Aric Almirola, who led 61 laps from the pole. Drivers can still score well from that range; you just need them to push for a win.
Four drivers made perfect lineups in the races at Pocono and Indy after starting in the top 12. They finished first, first, second, and third. The driver who finished third was Almirola, who got the boost from the laps led.
This gives us a good template for picking drivers on Saturday. If you think they can win, you can use them starting anywhere. Otherwise, you'll want to prioritize drivers starting further back who can snag place-differential points.
In theory, any of the teams in the top 12 could win the race, so you could justify all of them. But in reality, only one of them will get a win. This means you have to keep yourself from going nuts when targeting those drivers so that you're not capping your lineup's upside.
As Pocono showed, there will be times where a lineup with three front-starters can pay off. However, our default build should be two drivers starting in the top 12 who we think can lead laps and get a podium finish. You can get away with just one driver in the top 12 at times, but that'll also hurt the finishing potential of your lineup (unless we get a repeat of the chaos in Indy). That's what makes the two-front-starter build optimal. After that, it's all about drivers starting in the middle of the pack who can finish better than where they're starting.
To identify both those buckets -- the contenders and the place-differential candidates -- we can also look back at the Indy and Pocono races. Although the banking there is different, they're big and fast, just like Michigan. If a team had the speed for a good finish in those three races, they're going to have that speed again this weekend.
This makes our checklist pretty easy. After you get your stud or studs, look for drivers starting in the middle of the pack or lower who ran well at those two tracks. They're going to have great upside if they can convert that speed into a quality finish again, and we'll want to prioritize drivers who fit that mold as our core plays.
Consumers Energy 400
The main thread of Sunday will be the same as Saturday: we want place-differential points. They'll just be a whole heck of a lot easier to find.
As with the other double-headers, the lineup for the second race will be set via an invert of the first. The top 20 finishers will flip from where they were in the first race. The winner will start 20th with the driver who finishes 20th on the pole. The drivers who finish outside the top 20 will start where they finished, barring any driver changes.
Not only do we already know which drivers will be fast in the race, but those same drivers will be starting right in the middle of the field, in position to get place-differential points. Hello, heaven.
Thanks to the other three double-headers, we do have a sample on what this looks like in practice. Here are the starting ranges for the 15 drivers who have made a perfect lineup in those three races.
|Starting Range||Drivers in Perfect Lineups|
|1st to 5th||0|
|6th to 10th||2|
|11th to 15th||1|
|16th to 20th||5|
|21st to 25th||2|
|26th to 30th||2|
|31st to 35th||1|
|36th to 40th||2|
I'm sure you are flabbergasted to see the most fruitful range has been from 16th to 20th. Who could have possibly expected the top-five finishers from Saturday to beast out on Sunday?
It's also noteworthy how many drivers have rebounded from tough opening days to pay off for DFS in the second race. Almost half of the drivers in the perfect lineups -- 7 of 15 -- were drivers who finished outside the top 20 in the first race.
This is why it's important to watch Saturday's race if you get the chance. If a driver gets pinned a lap down due to a caution or just has some bad luck, they could very easily wind up finishing outside the top 20 despite having speed. When that's the case, you'll want to be aggressive in shoveling shares of that driver into your player pool.
If you can't watch the race, statistics like driver rating and average running position can at least bridge the gap a bit and tell you who truly had speed in the opener. But if those issues happen early, even those stats will come up short. As such, if you get the chance to check out Saturday's race, it'll help you fill out better lineups on Sunday.
Essentially, you want to treat Sunday's race like one at a drafting track. There, we stack the back because drivers in the back are just as capable of getting a good finish as those up front. In this situation, they may even be more likely to finish well, depending on the strength of the drivers who finish in the upper teens on Saturday. That's advantageous for DFS any time, but it's especially true in a race like this where our main emphasis is on finding place-differential points.