Fantasy Racing 101: Getting Started in Fantasy NASCAR

Fantasy Racing 101: Getting Started in Fantasy NASCAR

Getting Started in Fantasy NASCAR

It's time to warm up those engines with cars about to hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for the kickoff of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series. With all the hype and excitement shifting into high gear it is a good time to get the lowdown (or at least a refresher) of the primary fantasy NASCAR game formats out there.

Fantasy NASCAR runs the gamut from traditional draft-style games, to weekly tiered driver selections, daily fantasy games and salary cap leagues. With all formats, the goal is to assemble the team of drivers you think is most likely to score the most points in that week's race. Fantasy managers should always study the points system for their game to optimize the driver selections on that week's track. For instance, points for laps led could favor a driver starting at the front of the field, but finish differential points could favor drivers who start further back in the pack. Either way, picking the winner surely can pan off, but that is easier said than done in the current era of NASCAR Cup Series competition.

Draft-Style Competition

Draft-style competition is the original fantasy format. At the start of the season each team manager drafts from the available field of drivers. That drafted team would generally remain static throughout the season with the opportunity for managers to drop and add free-agent drivers along the way. I've seen this format in use for many years and more recently the

Getting Started in Fantasy NASCAR

It's time to warm up those engines with cars about to hit the track at Daytona International Speedway for the kickoff of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series. With all the hype and excitement shifting into high gear it is a good time to get the lowdown (or at least a refresher) of the primary fantasy NASCAR game formats out there.

Fantasy NASCAR runs the gamut from traditional draft-style games, to weekly tiered driver selections, daily fantasy games and salary cap leagues. With all formats, the goal is to assemble the team of drivers you think is most likely to score the most points in that week's race. Fantasy managers should always study the points system for their game to optimize the driver selections on that week's track. For instance, points for laps led could favor a driver starting at the front of the field, but finish differential points could favor drivers who start further back in the pack. Either way, picking the winner surely can pan off, but that is easier said than done in the current era of NASCAR Cup Series competition.

Draft-Style Competition

Draft-style competition is the original fantasy format. At the start of the season each team manager drafts from the available field of drivers. That drafted team would generally remain static throughout the season with the opportunity for managers to drop and add free-agent drivers along the way. I've seen this format in use for many years and more recently the drafts have started to incorporate other format elements as well. 

With teams and drivers improving or losing their performance advantages over the long NASCAR season it is critical that fantasy managers make timely and well-informed roster changes. Picking up a driver just as a hot streak begins, and dropping one who is entering a slump, can have a significant impact on the outcome of the season. This format has become less standard over the last few seasons as other formats have gained popularity.

Tips for Draft-Style Competitions:

  • Prioritize drivers who advanced beyond the first round of 2020 playoff eliminations
  • Don't ignore road-course statistics — there are six road course races this season
  • The bulk of the 2021 schedule is still 1.5-mile ovals — look for drivers who excelled on those circuits last season
  • Only eight races will have practice or qualifying in 2021, which will limit on-track experience for drivers new to the series or on a new team

Tiered Selections 

Tiered selections are similar to draft-style games in that fantasy managers assemble a team of roughly five to six drivers for the race weekend. The field of drivers is grouped into three tiers, though. Fantasy managers select one or two drivers from the top tier, three or four from the middle tier and another one or two from the bottom tier, depending on the size of the roster. 

This format gives fantasy managers more opportunity to choose their drivers based on their relative success on that particular track. For example, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of the best drivers on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway. He was often the favorite those weekends, but was less frequently the favorite on 1.5-mile ovals where drivers like Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson dominated. 

This format limits the number of times in a season a player can select each driver, though. So, while there were only four superspeedway races each season, Earnhardt could be selected a bit more liberally while the Jimmie Johnsons of the series required more selectivity. Sometimes this format allows players to swap in a driver from their bench prior to the finish of the race, which can come in handy if one of your top selections has trouble early.

Tips for Tiered Selection Competitions:

  • It is a long season — plan in advance which drivers to use at which tracks
  • Place greater emphasis to recent results on the same track when ranking selections
  • Pay close attention to driver momentum throughout the season and be patient before selecting drivers in a slump
  • Don't be afraid to select part-time drivers in the bottom tier — especially on road courses

Daily Fantasy Sports & Salary Cap

For simplicity sake we'll cover daily fantasy sports (DFS) and salary cap formats in the same breath. The DFS format is what people familiar with DraftKings and Fantasy Duel are more accustomed to. A maximum budget is allotted for a player to choose six drivers, which is effectively the same as a salary-cap league except that the roster can be reset each week. In DFS games, managers select six drivers who have been individually priced through a combination of their success at that week's track as well as their momentum in the current season. Players can implement a number of different strategies in these games since laps led, finish differential and finishing position  generate points. Choosing under-valued drivers starting deeper in the field can sometimes outscore simply selecting the favorites in this format. Often, choosing the favorite driver can come with a steep price tag that forces players to look for those value-based drivers deep in the field. This format can feature hundreds of fantasy managers playing against one another to get the highest score, or players can select a head-to-head match where they pit their skill at assembling a team of drivers against one other person. There are no substitutions in this format once the green flag waves.

Tips for DFS & Salary Cap Competitions:

  • Be suspicious of the highest-priced driver each week
  • Prices are generally slow to fall when drivers are in a slump
  • Don't pay a premium for higher starting positions at Daytona and Talladega
  • Past performance is an indicator of future success in NASCAR — average finishes and laps led at the same and similar tracks are indicators to focus on when selecting drivers

Do the Research

Fantasy NASCAR comes in many forms.  If you're just getting your feet wet I would recommend trying all options to see which you enjoy the most. If you are familiar with DraftKings and Fantasy Duel there are also many low-priced entry matches each week to get the feel for it before jumping into the deep end. 

However, no matter what format you choose, make sure you research the track and drivers. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule features a whole host of new venues that will make selecting fantasy rosters a bit more of an unknown. More road courses, a dirt track and the elimination of qualifying for most weeks could offer a distinct advantage to the fantasy players who know which drivers succeed under those conditions. Most important, though, have fun and enjoy the racing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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