Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Pennzoil 400

The NASCAR Cup Series is in Las Vegas this week for its second straight race at a 1.5-mile track. What can we learn from last week in preparing for the Pennzoil 400?

If last week didn't go well for you in NASCAR DFS, fear not. You can just chalk it up as a practice round for Sunday in Las Vegas.

For the second straight race, the NASCAR Cup Series is running a 267-lap event on a 1.5-mile track in which the starting order is set by an algorithm. All the key components we use to formulate our optimal DFS strategy are in place once again.

It's time to run it back and give this another crack.

What, exactly, did we learn last week, and what does it mean for our lineups on Sunday? Let's run through that now and dissect how we should play things for the Pennzoil 400.

Lessons From Homestead

Entering last week's race, we discussed the two-pronged approach to setting lineups. We wanted at least one driver starting near the front who could lead laps, but we also wanted to exploit the opportunities for place-differential at our disposal. We had multiple opportunities for upside at our disposal.

Things played out in line with expectations.

The perfect FanDuel lineup from that race did include one driver starting in the top 10, followed by four drivers who worked their way forward from low starting spots. We just didn't necessarily plan around one of the place-differential guys absolutely torching the field in the final stage.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Martin Truex Jr. $12,500 9th 37
Kyle Larson $11,300 17th 5
William Byron $9,500 31st 102
Tyler Reddick $9,200 35th 0
Ryan Newman $6,000 23rd 0

William Byron managed to squeeze into both the lap-leader and the place-differential bucket, which means his car was a blazer. It also reflects how easy passing can be on these 1.5-mile tracks.

That allows us to take a similar approach with us to Las Vegas. We need at least one driver at the front who can lead laps, and we want to take advantage of faster cars starting further back. That's the broad template for the race. We do need to make a couple of tweaks, though.

The big one is dictated by the starting order. Things are a lot less random this week than they were in Homestead.

The Homestead starting order was set largely based on how drivers performed the first two races. Those were at high-variance tracks, so finishes there didn't necessarily predict speed going forward.

As a result, four of the top seven drivers in my model were starting outside the top 10. Four drivers in the top 18 in my model (including Byron and Tyler Reddick) were starting 30th or lower. When that's the case, you'll naturally have a heavier inclination toward those starting in the back.

The finishes at Daytona do still influence this week's starting order as owner points are factored into the algorithm, but with a race at a less volatile track doing the heavy lifting, there are fewer faster cars in the back. This time, only one of the top seven drivers in my model is starting outside the top 10, and only one driver starting 30th or lower is even ranked in the top 29 spots in my model. That's Matt DiBenedetto, starting exactly 30th and ranked 16th in the model.

There are still some drivers starting deeper than they'll likely finish, so place-differential isn't off the table. It's just less readily available than it was last week.

That alone has implications. But it also shifts the way we look at the front of the pack.

The incentive to chase laps led is lower when we can scoop place-differential elsewhere. It's easier to identify place-differential drivers than lap-leaders, and the upside there is just as big unless one driver dominates the race. So, with all else equal, the path of least resistance is favoring those starting further back.

This week, things aren't equal. With more limits on place-differential options, we have more incentive to drift closer to the front of the pack and target drivers who can run out front. Thankfully, there's enough upside to go around there.

With 267 laps, there are 26.7 FanDuel points available for laps led. If we get drivers running out front for long chunks of the race, they can pay off even without claiming the checkered flag. That's a big bonus.

In last year's two Las Vegas races, multiple drivers led at least 70 laps both times. A seven-point bump from laps led alone is equivalent to 14 spots of place-differential points, and there may not be a ton of guys who can pick up 14 spots from where they're starting this week. We won't want to pass up those bonuses.

Most of that will come from the front of the pack. All four drivers to lead at least 70 laps started inside the top 10, and again, that's where most of the top-end cars for this week will start, as well. We were able to get away with a single lap-leader last week, but things might be more top-heavy this time around.

There will obviously be exceptions. Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are both starting 15th or lower, and despite some issues in Homestead last week, they do still grade out within the top eight in my model. You can have lineups where you go with one lap-leader before plugging in a Logano or a Blaney as your second stud, and that can work out here. We just don't have as many options to fit that type of build this week.

That's the focus for the studs. Things will be a bit different for the value plays, too.

Even at a low salary, we need our value plays to finish well to make a perfect lineup. If it's hard to find drivers who will do that starting further back, we'll have to drift closer to the front to find value, as well.

We saw this in practice in Las Vegas last year. In the fall race, none of the drivers in the perfect lineup started in the back half of the field.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Denny Hamlin $13,300 10th 121
Ryan Blaney $11,500 15th 1
Kurt Busch $9,300 9th 29
Matt DiBenedetto $8,500 19th 8
Chris Buescher $6,000 16th 10

All five drivers finished inside the top nine. You need finishing juice out of these drivers, and if you can't find that from drivers starting further back, you'll have to roster those starting closer to the front.

This is a risky strategy because the floor on value plays starting in the front half of the field is scary. But with no fast cars starting outside the top 30 this week, it's a necessary alteration.

The Optimal Approach

Our broad thinking for this week is in lock step with Homestead: we need at least one lap leader in each lineup, and we should accept place-differential if we can find it. The "at least" and "if" in that sentence are the two big deviations.

With plentiful place-differential options in each salary tier last week, settling for one lap-leader was viable, and it wound up being the right play. This week, we'll want to skew toward two more often, though the single-dominator strategy still will work at times.

Because the starting order was so random, we could find good values starting deep in the pack. As with the studs, there are some options there this week, but our selection pool is a lot thinner. As a result, we're going to want to emphasize finding speed in our value plays regardless of where they're starting. That will occasionally lead us to targeting drivers in the back half of the field; it'll just be less common than last week.

A lot of this comes down to predicting speed in the cars, which is far from an easy task. But Homestead did help give us a read on which teams may have improved over the offseason, and we can apply those findings to this week. So, dig into what you saw last week and what happened last year on 1.5-mile tracks, determine which cars in each salary tier you think will contend, and see who may fit our altered strategy for Sunday's race.