Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Toyota Owners 400

The NASCAR Cup Series is once again running a longer race on Sunday, leading to a similar approach to recent races for NASCAR DFS. What do we need to know before setting lineups for the Toyota Owners 400?

The NASCAR schedule-makers have given us a gift. For that, we must extend our gratitude.

It can be jarring in DFS to shift your approach each and every week. If we're stacking the back for one race and prioritizing lap-leaders the next, it can put our brains through a blender, and across 36 races, it'll drain you fast.

But clearly, the Cup Series overlords value our sanity and are putting our needs first.

Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 in Richmond is the fourth consecutive Cup Series race with at least 250 laps to it, and it's the third in that stretch with more than 300. By this point, we know how to build lineups for that type of race.

Let's dive in to Richmond, specifically, and see what that means for us as we build out our lineups. Lucky for us, it's only minor tweaks from how we've been playing things of late.

Gunning for Lap-Leaders Again

Whenever we have races this length, the need for lap-leaders should be obvious. That's true for Richmond, as well.

The 400 laps leave us 40.0 FanDuel points available for laps led. It's a mark we hit or exceed only seven times the entire year, meaning this will be one of the more extreme examples we get of prioritizing lap-leaders.

That does not mean we have to ignore studs who may be starting further back. Last year's race provided a clear example of when we may get an exception. Here's the perfect lineup from that race.

Perfect LineupSalaryStartLaps Led
Martin Truex Jr.$13,000 14th0
Brad Keselowski$12,500 9th192
Austin Dillon$9,000 3rd55
Tyler Reddick$8,200 22nd0
Matt Kenseth$7,000 19th0

Although Martin Truex Jr. didn't lead any laps, he still paid off for DFS because he finished second and scooped place-differential. We shouldn't take that to mean we can go all out in targeting place-differential drivers, but it does give us a relevant example of something to study for this week.

Specifically, we're talking about Brad Keselowski. Among the top 11 drivers in my win simulations, Keselowski is the only guy starting outside the top 10. He's starting all the way back in 20th. That lowers his projected lap-leading total for the race, and that does matter a lot here. But as we saw with the Truex example last year, it doesn't mean we have to exclude him from lineups.

In that race, Keselowski dominated and led nearly half the laps all by himself. If that happens, and one driver monopolizes most of that upside, we have more leeway to lean on place-differential. If you think the race breaks that way again, you can go with Keselowski without robbing yourself of upside.

The perfect lineup from last year illustrates another point, though: we once again want to bump up the value of mid-range drivers starting up front. In that one, Austin Dillon had a great car and led 55 laps early on. That allowed him to make the perfect lineup at $9,000 even though he got negative points for place-differential.

If you find a way to jam in two lap-leaders -- one of which would likely be in the mid-range -- in addition to Keselowski, you've got three high-upside plays all in one bundle. If Keselowski finishes fifth, the place-differential he nets you there is equivalent to the points you'd get from 75 laps led. If you get that in addition to two lap-leaders, you're sitting pretty. There's also the possibility that Keselowski could lead laps late himself despite starting in the back.

So, we don't need to sell out exclusively for drivers starting at the front this week. However, we do need to account for starting position within our lineups.

If you're going to use someone like Keselowski, you absolutely must roster a driver starting right at the front who can lead laps early on while Keselowski works his way forward. Otherwise, you're just punting on 20 or so points that will go to someone else's roster. That can work if the driver who leads early finishes poorly, but Richmond isn't a super volatile track. The best strategy is to pair Keselowski (or other place-differential plays) with drivers up front who can get you access to those early laps led.

Clearly, despite his appeal, you're not going to use Keselowski in every lineup. In those lineups, you have plenty of wiggle room to use three lap-leaders in the same lineup. There are more than enough laps to justify that strategy, especially with some enticing options in the $9,000 through $11,000 range this week. The Dillon example from above is relevant even if you're not gunning for place-differential points with one of your studs.

As we saw in last year's fall race, place differential is once again in play for the lower-salaried drivers. Richmond isn't high-variance like Bristol, but a larger pool of drivers can crank out a top-10 finish than you'll get at a place like Las Vegas. This leaves open the door to find some drivers who will more forward throughout the race, and it allows us to consider drivers in the super value tier.

Luckily for us, we've finally got good data to roll with, as well. Sunday's race in Richmond will be the third of the season at a short, flat track, and it's the fifth in the 750-horsepower package. If drivers have performed well in those conditions to open the year, we can reasonably expect them to do well again on Sunday.

One word of caution, though, is that this might not be the race where you're finding those place-differential plays starting in the 30s. Austin Cindric is the highest-ranked driver in my model stating outside the top 25, and he's 21st in the model. Cindric deserves to be in our lineups decently often because he's in such good equipment, but he's the exception rather than the rule. Instead, a lot of our place-differential-contending value plays will likely start somewhere from 16th to 24th, a range containing a decent number of drivers who could push for top-10s.

In other words, we're looking at a very similar race to last fall's rendition: we can get a place-differential stud as long as we account for it elsewhere, and our value plays will start smack dab in the middle of the pack (outside of Cindric). We should be comfortable with this roster construction, and it's shaping up to be the optimal approach again on Sunday.