The NASCAR Cup Series continues its West Coast swing with a stop at Phoenix Raceway. The one-mile track plays host to the year-end championship race, so today’s race will serve as a bit of a tune-up for the four eventual championship participants.
NASCAR is bringing back the same tire combination that was used in last year’s championship race, so data from 2020 should be particularly relevant. The low downforce aerodynamic package is also in use, meaning other than in 2019 when higher downforce was used, we can use data all the way back to 2016 when lower downforce was first used with the Gen-6 car.
Richmond and New Hampshire are the two tracks that most closely resemble Phoenix in length, shape and banking, so feel free to use data from those tracks as well when making your driver evaluations.
With all that in mind, let’s jump into strategy for today’s race.
NASCAR at Phoenix DraftKings DFS Dominator Strategy
Today’s race is scheduled for 312 laps, so dominators will be the first thing on our checklist when making lineups. My machine learning model projections show a group of seven drivers are most likely to lead the bulk of the laps. It should be no surprise that defending series champion and winner of the most recent Phoenix race, Chase Elliott, is tops on that list.
Additionally Brad Keselowski as the pole-sitter is neck-and-neck with Elliott for the top dominator spot.
As those two drivers will be the chalkiest dominator plays, I want to focus on the next tier of drivers and find the one that will be under-owned and provide bang for the buck. With Kyle Larson moving to the rear and also the series’ most recent winner, we can strike him from the list. Kevin Harvick starts back in 18th and costs $11,800, so we can remove him as well.
That leaves us with a choice between Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Based off my model’s projected ownership and the Perfect% calculation (the percent chance a driver has at ending up in the perfect lineup), Hamlin looks like the prime tournament dominator play.
My model actually believes Hamlin is the third-most likely dominator behind Elliott and Keselowski. Thus, I’d recommend setting your Hamlin exposure to a minimum of 25% when making DFS lineups.
This accomplishes two things. First, it ensures we get close to his predicted Perfect% number of 26%. Second, if the optimizer spits out even higher than 25% we’ll get extra leverage on the field as my model projects Hamlin to be under-utilized by DFS players.
NASCAR at Phoenix DraftKings DFS Picks
After removing potential dominators, three drivers top the list in projected points per dollar. Each of these drivers falls in the 5.4-5.5 points per dollar range. However, of these three one driver not only has the highest floor in points per dollar should troubles occur, but also has arguably the strongest relevant track history.
Aric Almirola ($9000) has seven top-eight finishes in nine low downforce races while driving for his current team, Stewart-Haas Racing. His other two finishes were 13th and 17th, so even at the low end of his range, he still projects for at least 15 place differential points.
My favorite tournament driver is also one of the three drivers with the highest median points per dollar and top two in salary-adjusted ceiling when removing potential dominators. He also projects to be one of the most under-utilized drivers by fantasy players when comparing expected usage to my model’s Perfect% calculation.
Kurt Busch ($7700) projects to be in the optimal lineup 21.5% of the time thanks to his moderate salary. That said, he’s likely to have ownership somewhere in the teens. Busch has top-10 finishes in four of his last eight low downforce Phoenix races, but that doesn’t include a 32nd-place finish where he was one of the dominant cars before being taken out by Hamlin late in the race.
NASCAR at Phoenix DraftKings DFS Optimizer Rule of the Week
If we compare my model’s Perfect% to the projected ownership, and take the difference, we can then sort the list by this difference to find the drivers who are most likely to be under-owned. When removing both the dominators and the very worst cars (under $5500 on DraftKings), we get a list of 10 drivers who are projected to be under-owned.
The top six of these drivers add up to a total Perfect% of 116%, but a projected ownership of only 94%. That means we should be looking to average at least one of these drivers per lineup. One rule we can create is to group these drivers together and use at least one of these six drivers in our lineups for the bulk of our lineups.
However, we can take it a step further. It turns out, the drivers net out in pairs based off their salary and starting position. Here are the three pairs of drivers:
- Kurt Busch ($7700, starts 12th) and Christopher Bell ($8100, starts 4th)
- Cole Custer ($6700, starts 24th) and Ross Chastain ($6900, starts 22nd)
- Anthony Alfredo ($5800, starts 28th) and Corey LaJoie ($6000, starts 33rd)
In each case, these three drivers have negative correlation with each other when diving deeper into the 50,000 simulations. This is especially true with Busch and Bell, who have very strong negative correlation.
In fact, their negative correlation is so strong that they rarely appear in the optimal lineup together.
Pairs two and three experience this to a lesser degree, and instead of decreasing by 80% you can decrease by around 25% for these pairs of drivers.
So by combining a group rule with some anti-correlation rules, we can really hone our lineup creation when using the FantasyLabs optimizer.
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