After racing at three short tracks in the last four weeks, the NASCAR Monster Energy Series heads back south for restrictor-plate racing at Talladega, Alabama. Talladega Super Speedway is a 2.66-mile tri-oval with 33-degree banking in the corners that provides exciting pack racing because of the draft. Besides understanding that the draft can create a multi-car wreck that is able to remove half the field in a single wreck, the biggest factor DFS players must understand is how going from 400 to 196 laps affects lineup construction. If you’ve read my Gaining an Edge in NASCAR DFS preview it should be common knowledge now to adjust your potential dominators by the number of laps; however, Talladega like Daytona presents us with an issue.

At your typical race track, there is a strong correlation between laps led and fastest laps which make singling out a potential dominator an easy task. Just pick the drivers you expect to lead a majority of the race. However, what do you do when the driver who is leading the race often won’t be the same driver who just ran the fastest lap around the track? Don’t forget that fastest lap is worth twice as much as leading a lap according to Draftkings. In fact, chances are you can count on one hand the drivers who won’t register a bonus for having a fastest lap bonus. Because the Foundation Model only reviews statistics for the last two seasons let’s review laps led versus fastest laps for the last four races at Talladega.

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Spring 2015: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won from the 4th starting position leading a total of 67 laps but only registered 2 fastest laps. David Gilliland, who only led one lap that day, went on to register eleven fastest laps. On the day Dale earned 16.75 laps led bonus points for leading almost a third of the race; however, David Gilliland earned nearly a third of that same total just by registering 11 fastest laps (5.5 fastest laps bonus points).

Fall 2015: Joey Logan won from the 10th starting position leading a total of 20 laps while only having 2 fastest laps. Meanwhile, Greg Biffle led all drivers with 17 fastest laps out of a possible 196. In second place was Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading 61 laps with a lap led bonus of 15.25 fantasy points, but that was peanuts compared to Martin Truex Jr. who started 43rd and finished 7th gaining 36 place differential points in the process.

Spring 2016: Brad Keselowski won from the 7th starting position leading a total of 46 laps while only having 1 fastest lap. Interestingly enough, not one single driver had double-digit fastest laps registered that day meaning no one earned more than 5 points in that bonus category. On the flip side, for moving up 5 spots to first and leading 46 laps, plus 1 fastest lap, Brad Keselowski had 63 fantasy points that day. However, Jamie McMurray who started 30th and finished fourth led no laps and only had 4 fastest laps but ended up with 5 more total fantasy points (68) than the winner of that day’s race.

Fall 2016: Joey Logano won from the 16th starting position leading a total of 45 laps while only nabbing 3 fastest laps. Meanwhile, Carl Edwards led all drivers in the fastest laps category with 14 that day while only leading 1 lap himself. The biggest takeaway that day was pole sitter Brad Keselowski who led a whopping 90 laps (22.5 bonus points) but finished 2 spots shy of dead last (38th) after wrecking out. For those who rostered Brad, they were rewarded with -8 fantasy points even though he led nearly half the race.

In conclusion, what’s the underlying theme here at Talladega in regards to Draftkings scoring? First, with only 196 laps there is a maximum of 147 dominator points available. Add in the fact that fastest laps points will not be accrued during cautions and we have even fewer points available. Also, don’t forget that the driver who leads isn’t getting the .50 fastest lap bonus as well, meaning our search for potential dominators starts and ends at ZERO. That being said, you will need one lap leader. Let me very specific for a second, the fastest lap leaders will be random and they will be fairly evenly split across the field. However, as each of the past four races showed us, whoever wins will probably be a top tier driver and they will lead around 40-70 laps giving them ~15 laps led bonus points. You will need that driver in your lineup if you want the optimal lineup. Second, drivers who move up through the pack and finish top five/ ten are scoring the same, or even outscoring, drivers (fantasy points wise) who start and finish near the front while leading a majority of laps. If you do start a driver near the front you’re taking on lots of unwanted variance as a wreck, or especially the “Big One”, could take them out of the race several spots separated from where they started giving them negative points for the day. See Brad Keselowski 2016. Was dominating The race then a crash took him out, killing a lot of lineups.

I know it sounds crazy to build a lineup based on one driver who’ll lead 25% of the race while trying to grab as much place differential scoring as possible, but this is the way restrictor plate racing works at Talladega. This is ultimately going to mean, dependent on qualifying, that you learn to suppress your need to fill out the salary cap. You will probably be left with teams that are $1000 to even $7000 under the salary cap, but the more place differential your team can pick up the better. Your drivers will knock out 3-8 fastest laps themselves just by being on the track alone and don’t even sweat if they don’t lead a single lap. Talladega is the type of track where you probably won’t need the winner to win a GPP yourself. At this year’s Daytona 500, the trio of Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, and Ryan Blaney all started 30th or worse and became the core trio to every cash winning lineup as they all scored at least 70 fantasy points while none of the three actually won the race.

Thus, what will I be looking for in regards to drivers for this Sunday’s race at Talladega?

  • Starting 15th or worse with a heavier emphasis on those starting 25th or worse. I want to maximize my team’s ability to gain place differential points so the further back the driver starts the better.
  • Top 5’s, Top 10’s at Talladega and restrictor plate races over the past two seasons. If I look at the Foundation Model I can easily see who are the most consistent finishers (Joey Logano) versus those who can’t seem to get out of their own way (Matt Kenseth). If a driver has a good recent history of finishing tenth or better it also clues me into any possible place differential points should they have a bad qualifying session. Even if a driver starts 28th it’s no guarantee having them in your lineup is a cash winning lock if they only move up two spots.
  • Low DNF (did not finish) rate. Believe it or not but finishing a restrictor plate race can be a bit of an art and some drivers have mastered the ability to move through the draft with zero DNF’s at Talladega and Daytona. On the flip side, you have drivers like Danica who have DNF’s for 4 of the past 9 restrictor plate races killing any possible upside you assume they have.

Be on the lookout for Cappys NASCAR article after qualifying. He will help pinpoint some drivers to use and others to fade. Together between myself and Cappy we will help you cash out in NASCAR.

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Phill Bennetzen

Phill is a father, husband, Catholic, IT Director, wannabe Nutritional Sociologist, and passionate for sports and the stats that encompass them. Phill provides stats and analysis for both NFL and NASCAR as well as writing about game theory for his weekly Process Report article.