Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Food City Dirt Race

The Bristol dirt race brings a revamped weekend format with it to the Cup Series. How does this alter our mindset when filling out NASCAR DFS lineups?

YOU, an intellectual: Getting the Cup Series on dirt at Bristol is going to be a thrill.

ME, a broken brain boy: omg we get practice again

This weekend's Food City Dirt Race at Bristol is the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has run on dirt since 1970, and it brings with it a wildly different format than what we're used to. The changes are even more drastic compared to race weekends we've had since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That requires an alteration to how we do this track preview. Before we run through how we want to play things for NASCAR DFS, it's important to first lay out what's different. Then, we'll go through how that alters our approach and finish up with thoughts on roster construction for Sunday's main event.

The Format

Since NASCAR returned from its COVID-19 layoff, the Cup Series has had qualifying just twice, and you could count the number of practice sessions on one hand.

Both are back in play this week, even if it's not the traditional format.

The Cup Series will have two practice sessions on Friday, the first at 4:05 p.m. Eastern and the second at 6:35 p.m. The series is holding practice and qualifying this year for just eight events, primarily those the circuit has not raced before. This is the first event for 2021 outside of the Daytona 500 to hold practice.

The starting order will be set on Saturday night. There will be four different heat races, the starting order for which will be set by a draw. The finishing position in those heats combined with bonus points for passes will set the starting order for the main event on Sunday.

The main will get underway at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. It's a 250-lap race with stage breaks after laps 75 and 150. This race length is half of what you get for a typical Bristol Cup Series race.

That's the schedule for the weekend. And each aspect has big implications for DFS.

Starting with the pre-race events, practice and the heat races will give us actual on-track data for who is fast this weekend. Practice data is always important, but that's especially so when it's a track type on which we have no data for any of these drivers in heavy Cup cars.

We'll want to let what we see in practice and the heat races dictate which drivers we roster on Sunday. If a typical contender is posting slow times, they'll be a tough sell. It's hard to envision any driver magically learning how to wheel it on dirt across just 250 laps.

Given the way the starting order is set, that will likely lead to a bias toward the front of the field. The drivers starting in the back for the main event will be those who struggled in the heats. We certainly have the leeway to roster drivers at the front, though there is an important caveat.

The appeal of those at the front comes from the race length. A 250-lap main event leaves 25.0 FanDuel points for laps led, which is plenty enough to get us excited. With how quickly laps tick off at Bristol, once a driver gets out front, they'll be able to rack up points in a hurry. As such, if you think a driver will compete to lead laps, they're a viable DFS play no matter where they're starting.

The caveat is that we do still want to seek out place-differential points when we can find them. With the 250 laps likely to be gobbled up by just a handful of drivers, we don't need to front-load our rosters with potential lap-leaders in the same way we've looked to do the past two weeks. That leaves lingering upside for drivers starting further back who can pick their way through the field.

This is a situation we can handle in a similar fashion to what we do for the Daytona 500. We want to look for drivers whose finish in the heat race undersells their speed.

Let's say a driver spins during a heat race and finishes poorly. They're going to start in the back for the main event. But if they were running well before the spin or had speed in practice on Friday, they're likely to pick their way through the pack and push for a good finish. That's a solid formula for a quality DFS outing.

Basically, you want to buy low when you get the chance to do so. This may not happen. It's entirely possible that the heat races are clean, in which case those starting in the back are also projected to finish there. But if you get a chance to scoop some place-differential on a driver with speed, you should take advantage.

The tl;dr here is that two types of drivers will have the most appeal on Sunday: those starting at the front who can lead laps and win and those starting in the back with the speed to pick their way through the field. Those are the drivers who should be the core of your rosters.

In an ideal world, we'll be able to find two lap-leaders for each lineup and three place-differential plays. That allows us to scoop upside at each roster spot and properly account for what could be a high-variance race.

Unfortunately, the odds we get a bunch of viable place-differential plays are low. There will certainly be some, but we don't want to tie every lineup to those who wind up starting further back. As a result, we're naturally going to have drivers on our rosters who don't fit perfectly into either bucket. For those drivers, you're just trying to identify who will finish best as finishing points still matter a bunch. But if you're looking for truly optimal, core-level plays, the two aforementioned buckets are where you'll want to look.

Outside of roster construction, the other thing to note this week is that salaries are going to be more inefficient than ever. With salaries released before practice and the heat races, we'll have a much better grasp on who is expected to compete by Sunday than we had when the player pool was set up. As a result, you should be very open to leaving a healthy chunk of salary on the table if that's where the optimal roster leads you.

Even though this is a unique event, it is a return to normalcy in a lot of ways. Before COVID, we were able to use practice times to inform our lineups, and we could hunt for drivers who may have had a rough time in qualifying. We get both of those opportunities this weekend. It's a recalibration from how things have operated for the past year, but with all the uncertainty entering the weekend, we'll take every ounce of information we can get.