Hi everyone, it’s Dustin Maybin (@CUPharmDFS) here for the first installment of Rearview Reflections [OR OTHER CLEVER TITLE TBD], where I look back at the weekend that was in review with a focus on how it affects our road ahead.
The racing was more exciting at Phoenix than it’s been in recent years, but much like past races, it turned into a snoozefest for long stretches. Like we mentioned last week, it is good from a DFS perspective due to its predictability. For the most part, drivers we expected to dominate did so and drivers we expected to struggle did just that.
Let’s begin by looking at the winning lineup from the mini-MAX contest since it is one of the largest GPPs on DraftKings…
Going into the weekend, I was torn about whether practice data or track history would be more important, especially since NASCAR decided to change the short track package. Ultimately, I decided that prioritizing practice data would be my preferred method of constructing lineups, and it proved fruitful.
3 Things I Got Right
- Overall cash game and GPP rankings
My top two ranked cash game targets were Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick, while my favorite GPP targets were Ricky Stenhouse and Chase Briscoe. As you can see above, all four found their way into the winning lineup.
Now, I know you’re saying, “Congrats on recommending the two most obvious plays on the slate. VERY impressive.” I’ll admit, it doesn’t feel right taking credit for recommending Larson and Harvick. However, it illustrates that the process was correct. Harvick obviously has the best track history in the series at Phoenix, but he was top 5 in every practice speed metric. Larson was on the pole, which is an advantageous spot at Phoenix, with the fastest car in practice. Like most of the industry, I did not waver due to possible high ownership; they were my favorite anchors to lineups.
Chase Briscoe was also fairly chalky, but Ricky Stenhouse was one of my low-owned flagplants of the week. Briscoe ranked top 3 in driver rating in both Phoenix races in 2022 and was top 10 in practice speed. Since I decided to prioritize practice speed, I landed on Stenhouse as my preferred value play. From the breakdown, he was 4th, 9th, 5th, 6th, and 5th in 5-, 10-, 15-, 20-, and 25-lap averages in practice, respectively. Many others recommended Zane Smith as a punt, which made sense from a salary perspective, but he was slow in practice, and drivers starting in the 30s rarely pay off at Phoenix. For the majority of the race, I thought I’d made the wrong decision, but in the end, he did just enough to exceed 5x value with his 19th place finish.
- General lineup construction
From the breakdown, “I want two to three dominators, at least one driver who can gain at least 10 positions, and at least one driver from the 11th to 20th range who can have a solid day with possibly top 5 potential.”
The winning lineup had three dominators in Larson, Byron, and Harvick. From my research, I knew that 69% of the laps led at Phoenix since 2018 came from drivers starting 1st through 4th. I knew that in my main lineup I wanted to make sure I had two drivers from the top 5, so Larson, Hamlin, Byron, and Bell were all in play. I also liked Blaney despite starting further back. I ranked them in the following order (mainly due to practice speed): Larson, Byron, Hamlin, Blaney, Bell.
Going into the race, I didn’t see Harvick as one of the main dominator options, but I did expect him to contend for a top 5 finish and gain 15-20 fast laps for a solid DFS day. He was my main choice for a driver starting in the top 20 with top 5 potential. I’m glad he did that and more.
For aforementioned reasons, Briscoe was one of my favorite choices to gain at least ten positions. On average, 4.3 drivers per race over the past 10 trips to Phoenix have gained 10 or more positions. Of those drivers, 72% achieved a top 10 DraftKings score; hence why I wanted to include this criteria in my lineup. I thought Stenhouse could potentially do this as well, but I was playing him more for the salary relief. Other options I liked in this range were Almirola and Buescher.
- Fading the right drivers
After the first three weeks of the season, I felt a little crazy not playing Kyle Busch or Ross Chastain given the speed they’ve shown so far. However, Phoenix is a different track type than anything they’ve seen yet. They were also slow in practice, and Chastain was quoted as saying that they “missed the setup.” This new car has increased the amount of parity, making it more difficult to have strong takes on the top drivers in the series, but they seemed like obvious fades compared to those around them.
Among other drivers starting in the top half of the field, I faded Suarez, Jones, and Keselowski. Suarez and Jones had poor track history and were starting too high for me to consider playing. Suarez hovered around 10th for most of the race until he had issues, but he still wouldn’t have outscored other similarly priced drivers. Keselowski surprisingly stayed in the top 10 for a majority of the race, which may be something to take note of moving forward. I assumed right though that he wouldn’t have the dominator potential of the other drivers starting near the front.
I completely faded drivers starting worse than 30th except for Almirola and a sprinkle of Austin Dillon. It may seem obvious given the range mostly consisted of usual backmarkers, but if you look at past optimal lineups, the decision is a little more conflicted. 5 of the past 10 Phoenix optimal lineups have featured a backmarker starting 30th or worse who didn’t necessarily score well, but provided the salary necessary to fit in the main dominators.
3 Things I Got Wrong
- Assuming Penske would be strong regardless
Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney were the class of the field in the most recent visit to Phoenix, both starting on the front row and hogging nearly all the dominator points. They were also fast in practice, ranking 2nd and 1st in average lap time, respectively. I did notice that they had more falloff in their lap times on the long run than other drivers, but I incorrectly assumed that they would figure it out during the race.
Logano struggled all day, barely staying on the lead lap at the end of stage 1. I hadn’t played much of him due to his salary, but I still thought he’d have a decent day. Blaney was able to stay in the top 10 most of the day, but he wasn’t able to find his way to the front. I thought of him as a potential dominator, but I was wrong.
The problem was that Larson and Byron were faster on the short run and had less tire fall off on the long run. Penske being good on this track type should not have been enough for me to ignore the practice data that I was prioritizing for every other driver.
- Trusting practice data too much in some areas
There were some great GPP pivots that I didn’t give strong enough consideration, mainly due to what I saw in practice, namely Austin Dillon, Ryan Preece, and Michael McDowell. They ranked 30th, 32nd, and 23rd in 10-lap average practice speed, causing me to overlook them. Practice speed has its place, but I need to look at the full picture better.
As I mentioned earlier, I tried to avoid drivers starting 30th or worse, except for Almirola. Only 2 times in the past 10 races has a driver starting in this range had a top 10 DraftKings score, and Almirola was responsible for one of those. This was his best track type and he showed top 10 long run speed in practice. Of course, this made him the ultimate chalk place differential play, but he busted, leaving us wondering what could have been. (For what it’s worth, he was running around 15th when he had a wheel fall off that ended his day, so he was still a great play.)
Dillon was slow in practice this week after a disappointing performance in Vegas last week. I admitted in the breakdown that he could finish in the top 18, but it was risky. For the first half of the race, I was right. However, he wound up finishing 16th, good for 41 fantasy points (11th best).
I even said that Preece’s “bread and butter” were these short, flat tracks and still got scared about playing him. He has been slow to start the season and was running lap times comparable to Cody Ware in practice. However, he was an obvious pivot off of Almirola at much lower ownership (7.4% on DK; 3.6% on FD) that would have helped accomplish my goal of avoiding 30th on back. Heck, Preece is Almirola’s teammate, so I should have realized he had a similar upside.
Looking back, I still wouldn’t have played McDowell starting 7th. Nothing would have suggested to me that he was a good play other than how difficult it is to pass at Phoenix. He was able to run top 15 all day and still only scored 24.9 points. His appearance in the winning lineup had more to do with the salary relief he provided than his actual performance.
- Being swayed by the opinions of others
I am certainly not blaming anyone else for my lineup decisions, but I needed to trust my gut more. It was still a profitable day, but it could have been even bigger. I am on a journey to get a takedown in a 150-max GPP tournament, and exposures are very important relative to the field. For example, I played Ricky Stenhouse at a 55% clip on DraftKings. It ended up being a great move that occurred due to me standing by my convictions. (I’ll come clean though; I actually had 70% Ricky until I realized no one else seemed to be on board with it.)
As stated in the breakdown, I was “indifferent” to playing Christopher Bell. I knew he was good on this track type and the Toyotas were good on the long run, but I felt stronger about Byron, Hamlin, and even Blaney. Once I saw several other touts whom I respect greatly throwing their support behind Bell, I decided to up my exposure to him. He certainly didn’t kill any lineups but he didn’t win any tournaments, either.
I also sprinkled a little more exposure on Martin Truex Jr and Alex Bowman than I would have liked to. No one was necessarily recommending them as strong plays, but I was afraid I was missing something. When building 150 lineups, you want to prepare for every scenario even though it’s not possible. I recommended taking the under on Alex Bowman on PrizePicks, yet I found myself playing him some on DraftKings because I thought he could end up with a top 5.
Next time, I will try to trust my process more. It’s a great idea to see what the masses think, in order to see where our blind spots are or to hear perspectives you hadn’t thought of. However, you’re ultimately the one risking the money and doing your own research, so trust your gut.
- Hendrick Motorsports is back to their dominant ways. They have been strong every week so far and look to be the stable to beat. Byron has two wins. Larson has had the fastest car the past two weeks. Bowman has finished top 10 in every race. They show no signs of stopping, though the season is young.
- It will be interesting to see if Trackhouse shows up faster at the next race with the new short track package. I’d think the lower downforce would be in Chastain’s wheelhouse, but they missed the setup this week after being very fast the past two weeks.
If you enjoyed this or have suggestions, please let me know! I hope it was helpful. Be sure to enjoy the rest of the content coming your way with four races on the docket this weekend via NASCAR and F1. Have a great week!