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NASCAR DFS: Does NASCAR’s New Race Format Impact Strategy?

NASCAR announced a major overhaul to both its points system as well as to the race format for the 2017 season. The goal is muli-purposed: to encourage racing throughout the race, to reward both consistency and winning, to provide a cushion for the season’s best drivers in the playoffs so that one bad race doesn’t eliminate them, and to give TV viewers pre-planned commercial breaks to get a tasty beverage. But the real question is — how do these changes affect our NASCAR DFS lineup building process? To figure that out, we first need to review the changes.

NASCAR RACE & POINT FORMAT CHANGES

NASCAR has decided to make races three segments. The first two segments will be of equal length to each other, and in total comprise about one-half of the total race distance.1 The final segment will make up the remainder of the distance. Any race that reaches the conclusion of the second segment will be considered official should inclement weather or other circumstances force the race to end early.

More importantly, the top 10 finishers in each of the first two segments will receive points toward their regular season points total — or postseason points total for races that occur in NASCAR’s playoffs — with first place netting 10 points down to 1 point for a 10th place segment finish (from here on I will call these points “race points”). Additionally, a bonus point will be awarded as a “playoff point” for the winner of each of the first two segments, which stay with the driver through each round of the playoffs.

From there, it’s all about the race win, with the winner of the race gaining 40 race points, second through 35th place will get 35 down to 2 race points, and everyone finishing worse than 35th will get 1 race point. The race winner will also earn 5 playoff points.

Additional playoff points are awarded to the top-10 drivers at the end of the regular season on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale.

Qualifying for the playoffs remains the same, as does advancement through the playoffs, with the only caveat that the playoff points carry through to each round, rather than just the first round. Also note, NASCAR will no longer use “The Chase” moniker, but instead will simply call the final 10 races the playoffs.

So how do these changes impact the NASCAR DFS player?

NASCAR DFS Implications

First and foremost, DraftKings has no plans to change the scoring system for NASCAR DFS, and will be using the system that has been in place since they moved to six-driver lineups midway through the 2015 season.

As far as DFS strategy goes, the most important change is the fact that there will be segment winners, and points paid out to the top 10 finishing positions of each segment. That will encourage not only harder racing, which can lead to more accidents and cautions, but also more strategy moves by crew chiefs as they try to position their drivers to have a shot at the top 10. This will be especially true for mid-pack and back-marker drivers who have nothing to lose but everything to gain by finishing inside the top 10.

The accident side of things certainly could increase the rate of did-not-finishes (DNFs), and it remains to be seen how much that impact will be. It’s prudent to expect just a small increase in the rate of DNFs from hard segment racing, and that does place a little more premium on ownership percentages in GPPs.

The strategy element in the first two segments has little effect on final finishing position for most races. The 400 and 500 mile races will still have approximately 200-250 miles of racing after the first two segments, which is plenty of time for the best cars to make it from the back to the front. So even if a driver gets caught out on strategy in the first two segments, it’s not a huge concern for final finishing position.

What it does affect is the laps led and fastest laps, which are important because DraftKings awards 0.25 points for every lap led, and 0.5 points for every fastest lap. Strategic pitting could mean that mid-pack and worse cars pit earlier for fresher tires, giving them a higher proportion of fastest laps than they’d normally have. Additionally, it could also introduce higher variance in drivers that lead laps. Add in two additional guaranteed caution periods (in between the first and second, and second and third segments), plus more potential for cautions with harder racing throughout the race, and it certainly could lead to more drivers leading laps. This is something I will be monitoring in the first 5-10 races of the season. I will compare lap leaders in 2016 to prior year lap leaders at each race to see if there is any noticeable shift in the number of drivers leading laps.

If it turns out more drivers are leading laps, and fastest laps become a bit more randomly distributed, then that places even higher premium on finishing position and place differential. That’s where my machine learning model comes into play. The machine learning model I use is extremely accurate in predicting finishing position, and since finishing position informs place differential, the model will be even more important this year. I am working on changes and tweaks to squeeze out even more predictive power from the machine learning model than last year.

There will also be a higher premium on ownership percentages. Finding the low-owned driver that accumulates a handful of fastest laps and finishes moderately well will boost your team above all the other players who picked the high-owned driver that also finished well, but didn’t accumulate any fastest laps, all other things being equal. I may roll out machine learning ownership projections if time allows.

Finally, I also think it puts a bit more of a premium on recent (read: 2017) results relative to historic results. That’s because things like the probability of a DNF, the amount of new randomness introduced, and the length of time for a possible last green flag run are all changed. I’ll be giving 2017 results a bit of an extra premium early in the season until we have a better understanding of how the changes impact race flow and DFS strategy.

The 2017 NASCAR season is sure to be an interesting one, and I’m sure we’ll learn some things as we go as to how the new format and point system affects DFS play. Stay tuned for many more preseason NASCAR DFS articles and podcasts, as we prep for the 2017 NASCAR DFS season.

RotoDoc (DK handle giffenbone) holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics and is a two-time qualifier for the DraftKings Main Event. Additionally, RotoDoc has won multiple high paying NASCAR GPPs, including both the $100k and $75k tournaments for the 2016 Sprint Cup season opening slate, The Sprint Unlimited.

  1. This will be adjusted per-race to avoid a segment ending near the end of a fuel run so that it doesn’t become a fuel-mileage segment.  (back)

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