Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Current Form, Track History, and Betting Odds for the Instacart 500
And now for something completely different.
Through four races this year, we've had a pack track, a road course, and two 1.5-mile tracks. That's not necessarily abnormal as there are at least four races on each track type throughout the season.
But they're all very different than what we'll see on Sunday in Phoenix.
The Instacart 500 is the first time in 2021 we've seen the Cup Series use its 750-horsepower package on an oval. They used the package at the Daytona road course, but that's a different beast than what we have here. It means drawing conclusions from what we've seen thus far is tough.
The question we have to ask ourselves is how much we ding the drivers who have struggled to open the season. Stewart-Haas Racing, specifically, has had a sluggish start, and it has all of their drivers starting 18th or lower this weekend. That could, in theory, push us their direction. But if their struggles continue and they can't finish well, where they start is moot.
As such, we're going to have to do a balancing act this week. We'll want to take peeks at what we've seen in 2021 as teams can make gains over the offseason, but we also want to emphasize what drivers did in this package and on this track type in 2020.
The data sheet below attempts to do that. The current form section includes the non-Daytona-superspeedway races from 2021 to give us a read on who has opened the year hot. The rest of the current form section is the most recent non-Phoenix races on short, flat tracks.
Our best indicator of what to expect this weekend, though, likely comes from the course history section. After all, our most recent race on a track like Phoenix was, weirdly, at Phoenix itself. That was the championship race to close out last year. There are some unique intricacies tied to that -- the championship four contenders tend to get extra leeway and dominate the race -- but it's a good tell of who figures to run up front.
As always, the data for the individual races is each driver's average running position rather than where they finished. It does two things. First, it shows which drivers dominated the races as it's tougher to fake a top-five average running position than a top-five finish. Second, it helps account for drivers who finished worse than they should have.
Brad Keselowski ($12,500) is a good example of this from last year's spring race. There, he spun relatively early, clawed his way back through the field, won the second stage, and led 82 laps. However, some ill-timed cautions late in the race pushed him back to an 11th-place finish. Even his sixth-place average running position likely sells his speed short, but it does a better job than his finish.
The other data listed is each driver's starting position, FanDuel salary, and win odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. The win odds are in fractional form, so Chase Elliott ($13,500) being listed at 5.5 means he's +550 to win.
|Martin Truex Jr.||$10,700||10||5||7||5||7||4||6||9||13||11||6||7|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||$5,000||125||11||15||16||23||21||18||21||22||22||22||15|
The data should illustrate the appeal of Keselowski and Joey Logano ($12,000), teammates at Penske Racing.
In total, the Cup Series ran six races on short, flat tracks last year. In 12 combined races between the two, they had more wins (three) than finishes outside the top four (one). That lone lower finish was Keselowski's aforementioned run at Phoenix where he had late issues. Neither driver carries a prohibitive salary, and they give you easy access to laps led. They're the top two drivers in my win simulations, so they should be fixtures for tournament lineups.
The Stewart-Haas Racing outlook is certainly tough to pin down. On the one hand, Phoenix historically has been an elite track for Kevin Harvick ($14,000). On the other, they've had a rough start to 2020, and Harvick's path to leading laps isn't as clear as that of drivers starting at the front.
Harvick ranks seventh in my model entering the week, and the six drivers ahead of him are all starting in the top nine slots. They're the guys we can lean on to lead laps. With Harvick, you're hoping he shows improvements from the start of 2021 and improves from what he did on short, flat tracks toward the end of 2020. There's enough there for him to be an option, but there are also enough red flags to keep him from being a priority.
As for his teammates, it's easier to buy into Aric Almirola ($8,000) and Cole Custer ($7,300). Almirola had six top-10s in 10 races using the 750-horsepower package last year, and Custer's best aggregate average running position came on the short, flat tracks, besting his second-best track type (big, fast tracks) by a full position. They're starting 32nd and 24th, respectively, and at their salaries, you don't need them to lead laps.
The other drivers who measure up respectably in my model while starting in the back are Alex Bowman ($9,000) and Matt DiBenedetto ($7,700). Bowman is starting in the back because he had issues late in Las Vegas, but he was running well before that. He doesn't have form concerns. He also was respectable on the short, flat tracks with top-10 average running positions in Richmond and both Martinsville races.
DiBenedetto was running well last week until a mistake on a pit stop forced him to baby the car for the final green-flag run. Because he's in Penske-affiliated equipment, it should be no surprise that he had four top-10s in the six races at short, flat tracks last year, and he backed that up with three top-10 average running positions. Although we want to load up on potential lap-leaders for the studs, we can afford to scope out place-differential for our value plays. We have routes for doing so with Bowman, Almirola, DiBenedetto, and Custer, at the very least.