Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Dixie Vodka 400

For the first two weeks of the NASCAR DFS season, we've been dealing with limited paths to upside. You had only a few routes for racking up points, and if a driver couldn't get either, they were an immediate cross-off.

That changes this week.

The NASCAR Cup Series is going to Homestead on Sunday for its first race at a 1.5-mile track of the season. We've got 267 laps scheduled, leaving 26.7 FanDuel points available for laps led. That's up almost 20 points from the Daytona road course and 6.7 from the Daytona 500.

That's big for the drivers starting up front. This time, you don't have to win to be a good DFS play. You can lead laps, finish in the top five, and reward those who decided to invest. We haven't had that much flexibility yet this year.

That doesn't mean we should simply ignore the place-differential options starting further back, especially with the way the starting order is shaping up for Sunday. So, how do we balance lineups when we have multiple paths to a big day? A look back at similar races in 2020 can give us a good idea of this.

The Impact of the New Qualifying Format

Because Homestead isn't a premier race or a new track, there will once again be no qualifying and no practice prior to the race. This means the starting order has been set by an algorithm based on owner points, finishing position in the previous race, and other factors.

We've seen this exact format for a 267-lap race at a 1.5-mile track twice. We've seen a similar format an additional three times, including last year's race in Homestead. We can draw some quality conclusions from those events.

Specifically, we're going to focus on the perfect lineups from those races. These are the best lineups you could have constructed while staying under the FanDuel salary cap. It can point us in the right direction in terms of roster construction and more.

The perfect lineups show us that laps led do matter this week. If you add up the laps led across all five drivers for each perfect lineup, you get an average of 158.6 laps led per perfect lineup. There are multiple routes toward getting to that number, but lap-leaders generally were quality DFS plays.

Those lap-leaders started near the front of the pack. There were eight individual drivers who led at least 40 laps inside the perfect lineups. They all started in the top 11 spots, though where they started within the top 11 varied. Four were in the top five, and four others were between ninth and 11th. This means we should be hunting for lap-leaders, although they don't necessarily have to start within the first few rows.

That's takeaway number one, and it blends well with what we discussed at the top. Takeaway number two -- which will be in play this week -- is that you could still get good place-differential upside from the other slots on your roster.

Let's take the eight drivers who led at least 40 laps out of the pool for a second. That leaves us with 17 drivers who made perfect lineups in this five-race sample, and they didn't need to lead laps to generate upside.

Those 17 drivers started -- on average -- in the 22nd position. Three of them did start inside the top 10, but 10 started in the back half of the field, and five started 29th or lower.

We shouldn't expect that to change this week. With just two races in the books -- both of which were high-variance -- there are fast cars starting in the back. That's true for both studs (Kyle Busch) and mid-range/value plays (Matt DiBenedetto, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, William Byron, and Ross Chastain). We don't need to actively seek out place-differential options this week, but they're certainly available to us.

This can lead to a two-pronged approach. We should build around drivers who can lead laps and those who are starting further back. Those are the two buckets that have put drivers in perfect lineups in this format in the past, and the specific starting order we've got this week makes that even easier.

This gives us plenty of flexibility in how we build lineups. With all the place-differential options, we could go with one lap-leader and four drivers starting further back. But with 267 laps, we can comfortably target two or three drivers near the front, too, and hope they control the grand majority of the race. It just depends on which drivers you think will have the most speed this weekend.

One guideline we should stick to, though, is having at least one driver starting near the front who can lead laps early. All five perfect lineups had at least one driver who started in the top 10, and there was an average of two such drivers per lineup.

If we ignore the front entirely, we've got no shot at locking down the points for those laps led. So if you decide that Busch fits your fancy starting in 24th, that's totally fine. It'd just be wise to pair him with a driver starting closer to the front who can bank points while Busch works his way through the pack. Two of our perfect lineups had no drivers who started inside the top five, though, so how we define the "front" can be flexible. It seems like making sure we have a minimum of one inside the top 10 per lineup is optimal.

There will be drivers who don't fit into either of those buckets who wind up being good plays. The perfect lineups show us this is the case. So, if there's a driver starting around 10th who you think can get a good finish at a low salary, they're still a good option. You'll just want to have lower exposure to them relative to the drivers in the more obvious buckets as the lap-leaders and back-starters have more clear and probable paths to upside.