This is part three of a multi-part series intended to help both newcomers and veterans learn profitable Daily Fantasy NASCAR strategy. In this series Nick Giffen (@RotoDoc) teaches you everything you need to know to jump right into the sport and succeed. Nick holds a Ph.D. in mathematics, has won multiple NASCAR GPP tournaments, and is a two-time qualifier for the DraftKings NASCAR Main Event Live Final – the King of the Speedway.
Now that we know DFS NASCAR terminology and where to find relevant data, it’s time to jump in and play some contests! To start out, I recommend playing mostly formats that reward approximately half of the entrants. These are called cash games. A cash game can be anything from a field with a large number of entrants where about 50 percent of players double their money (called 50/50s or double-ups), or as small as a head-to-head (H2H) contest where two entrants square off against each other, with the player who scores the higher point total taking all the money (minus the rake). Let’s jump into the DFS NASCAR strategy for cash games by looking at the math behind them, and why race dominators matter in cash games.
Cash Game Threshold
The first thing to be aware of with DFS NASCAR is there is a fixed amount of points available in any given week. In the major stick and ball sports, there is no fixed number of points available on any given daily fantasy slate. This means some weeks it may take only 100 points to reach the approximate 50 percent cash threshold in an NFL cash game, and other weeks it may take 170 points. With daily fantasy NASCAR, we don’t have to worry about a moving target.
To determine the approximate cash threshold we start by calculating the number of points available for the finishing positions of each driver (this exercise will be done using DraftKings (DK) scoring, but the process can also be translated to other scoring formats). For any given race there are 949 total points available among all 43 finishing positions. Additionally, points are awarded for a driver recording the fastest lap on any given lap as well as for leading a lap; I call these points “dominator points” because they tend to come from the drivers who dominate a race. Fastest laps are worth 0.5 DK points, and laps led are worth 0.25 DK points. Therefore, we can easily calculate how many dominator points are available on any race weekend by taking the number of laps and multiplying by 0.75. Finally, points can also be scored through something called place differential, which is simply calculated as:
qualifying position – finishing position
However, the sum total of all place differential points is zero, because if one driver moves up a position, that means another driver moved down a position, so there is a net change of zero place differential points. As a result, the total number of points in any given race is given by the formula:
949 + (# of laps) * 0.75
With 43 drivers in each and every race, we can divide that total by 43 to find the average number of points scored by any one driver. On DraftKings, you roster exactly six drivers, so if we were to multiply the average points scored per driver by six, we’d hit the cash threshold, right? Wrong. Because entrants know there are certain drivers to avoid, and certain drivers to start, we need to actually hit more than the average number of points per driver.
Through experience, I’ve found that for most race weekends, if you score the equivalent of eight average driver points, that will put you approximately at the cash threshold.1 The final formula becomes:
[949 + (# of laps)*0.75]/43*8
One small final adjustment to be on the safe side is to round this number up to the nearest multiple of five. As an example, for a 400-lap race we calculate the number of points needed is
[949 + (400)*0.75]/43*8 = 232.4
which we round up to 235 points. Using the value method that is prevalent in DFS circles,2 we would need to make 4.7x value on average from each driver. So how do we go about doing so?
Cash Game Roster Construction – Upside Matters
As with any daily fantasy sport, it is important to select a roster with a high floor in NASCAR DFS. However, due to the nature of how the points get distributed in most races, it’s also important to look for a couple drivers with high upside. We’ll focus on picking the upside drivers first.
If we use the example above of a 400-lap race, then there are 300 dominator points available. This represents 24 percent of the total points available. If in some crazy world a driver led all 400 laps, he single-handedly would have put up at least 146 points, which is 62 percent of our estimated cash threshold. Depending on how much he was owned, if you missed out on rostering him, you would likely end up with a score well below the 50th percentile mark.
As a result, it is important to find the one or two guys who have the potential to dominate any given race. To do so, you may need to choose from a pool of two or three drivers, to give you a higher chance of hitting on one or two of the dominators. This comes with the added drawback that they tend to be higher in salary, but that’s okay.
In races with a small number of laps, it is less important to find the dominators, because a smaller percentage of the total points available will be from dominator points. For example, at the race at Indianapolis there are only 160 laps, meaning only 11.2 percent of the total points come from dominator points. In this case, I’d probably try to roster two guys likely to dominate the race instead of three.
The graph below plots the number of laps in a race on the x-axis against the total DK points of the driver who scored the most dominator points on y-axis. It’s clear that around the 200-lap mark, the best fit curve dramatically increases, showing how increasingly important it is roster the dominator as total laps increases.
Identifying the Dominators
So how do we go about identifying the dominators? There’s really three things I look for. The first, and most obvious, is who has been performing the best all year. The best metric for that is cumulative driver rating during the current season. However, for early races it’s ok to look at who performed the best over the last 15 races of the prior season. That’s where our NASCAR Splits App can really help. If we look at the last 15 races of the 2015 season, we see Joey Logano was the top performer last year, all the way through Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 10th. These are the likely drivers to dominate a race early in the year, although it’s not necessarily a given.
The second thing to look for is which drivers do well at that particular track, as well as at tracks similar to it (so we can increase the recent sample size). These different tracks types each have certain quirks that play to the driving style of certain drivers over others. Use the NASCAR Splits App to filter by individual tracks, or by broader track types, to get a feel for which drivers perform better than others. This can help you narrow that list of 10-15 really good drivers down to maybe six or eight drivers that could dominate.
Finally, make sure to observe practice speeds. As I showed in part two of this series, practice speeds are highly predictive of finishing position. Well, they are also highly correlated with the probability that a particular driver will dominate the race. Drivers that have fast single lap practice speeds – especially in the practice sessions after qualifying – may get a good handful of fastest laps (or much more). Additionally, the 10-lap average speeds will help you determine which drivers are better over the long run, especially as the fuel load lightens and the tires wear.
This should help you hone in on no more than five drivers that have the potential to dominate the race, and hopefully two or three really stick out so that you can cram some or all of them into your cash lineup – number of laps dependent of course!
I’ve shown how it is important to find the dominators, how that importance increases with total laps, and how to identify the likely dominators of any given race. From there, we can start to round out the rest of our cash game roster. The next part in this series will look at how we approach cash game roster construction from here.