DailyFanRacing NASCAR Preview - COTA
What’s up, everyone?! It’s Dustin Maybin (@CUPharmDFS) back again with your weekly DailyFanRacing newsletter!
Weekend in Review
Joey Logano won the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, breaking through for Ford’s first win of the 2023 season. In fact, the Fords showed up fast in qualifying and continued to show that speed throughout the race. There was still some mayhem, but not as much as I expected and certainly not as much as we saw in the lower series on Saturday. Good grief, could you even call those races?!
Formula One held its second race of the season in Saudi Arabia, where Red Bull Racing continued their dominance with both drivers earning podium finishes. Sergio Perez came away with the victory, while Max Verstappen battled his way through the field for a 2nd place finish. Fernando Alonso finished 3rd after multiple corrections due to a questionable post-race penalty. We’re two weeks into the F1 season, and we have already had members with takedowns in both races!
Ole Maxedon15 had a huge score in the Truck race turning $29 in a cool $2200! We also had numerous F1 takedowns including Ryan Larkin himself sharing the top spot with a few of our friends as well as CloakedMistborn taking the top spot in the large $15 contest for the second straight week. And of course, we followed that up with a bunch of nice winners from the Cup race. Lots of this success came on from the teams use of the DailyFanRacing Projections and The Solver Optimizer!!
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Left turns, right turns, and hills, oh my! This weekend, NASCAR will be in Austin, Texas as all three series compete at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). It is the first of several road courses on the schedule in 2023, but luckily for us, this track type has historically been more predictable than what we’ve been trying to decipher the past few weeks. Though it will be a change-of-pace, COTA should continue the excitement and forward momentum of the 2023 season!
COTA is a 3.426-mile road course, famously used for F1, IndyCar, MotoGP, and now NASCAR among others. 2021 marked the first time NASCAR raced here, but conditions were much different than what was seen in 2022. In the inaugural race, there were torrential downpours, while the weather was sunny with temperatures around 90 degrees last year. The drastically different conditions and small sample size could complicate things, but we have a decent amount of data from other road course races that should provide some clarity as to what to expect this weekend.
There are some changes since the last visit to COTA that we need to take account of. The races this weekend will not have the stage cautions we've seen in years past. That means that short pitting to cycle the stages is no more and that the best cars will have more of an advantage. Also, the new Cup Series road course package features a shorter rear spoiler and thus less downforce than in 2022. Though it's lower horsepower, the downforce aligns more with what we saw in 2021.
XPEL 225 - Craftsman Truck Series
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Saturday’s XPEL 225 is scheduled for 42 laps, yielding a maximum possible 27.6 dominator points. Finally, practice and qualifying are on Friday night, giving us more time to build lineups or second-guess our convictions.
In last year’s race, 2023 champion Zane Smith won in surprising fashion in overtime, giving Front Row Motorsports their second consecutive win at COTA. Cup drivers Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch were battling it out on the final restart, allowing Zane to pass them and pull away. Fortunately for the viewers, both Busch and Bowman are back this week to avenge last season’s loss.
Obviously, qualifying will play a huge role in building lineups this week, but the expected high price tags of these Cup drivers make for a very interesting slate. With only 42 laps, they likely won’t be optimal without leading a significant portion or scoring some place differential.
In every Truck Series optimal lineup on a road course, all drivers have finished 18th or better and achieved at least 4.8x value. Due to the limited amount of laps, in relation to other track types, more emphasis should be placed on place differential and finishing position when constructing lineups. Since 2018, a driver has scored more than 60 DraftKings points just ten times. Only three of those times has it been done by a driver starting in the top 10, showing how risky these high priced drivers can be. Then again, they’re the best in the field, so take it for what it’s worth.
In each of the two previous races at COTA, there have been two drivers lead at least 10 laps. All four started in the top 5 positions. In fact, 85.4% of laps over the past 9 road course races were led by a driver starting 1st through 6th. Laps led are not as significant at road courses, especially one as long as COTA, but it’s likely the main path a driver starting near the front has to being optimal.
Pit Boss 250 - Xfinity Series
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Saturday evening’s race is scheduled for 48 laps, leaving a possible 31.8 dominator points up for grabs. Like the Truck Series, practice and qualifying are on Friday night.
Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, and to a lesser extent, Noah Gragson have dominated the road courses in the Xfinity Series the past two years.
Speaking of AJ Allmendinger, he won last year’s race at COTA in dominating fashion to score his 7th career road course win (at 6 different tracks). Austin Hill began to show his road racing prowess with a 2nd place finish while Cole Custer recovered from a mid-race pit road speeding penalty to finish 3rd.
12 of the past 17 Xfinity Series road course optimal lineups spent at least $49,000 in salary. 4 of the 5 races that did not spend that much came at “hybrid” road courses, such as Daytona RC, Charlotte ROVAL, and Indianapolis GP. More carnage tends to occur at those pseudo-road courses while cars tend to spread out more at tracks like COTA and Road America, leading to less huge performances from cheap drivers. However, despite leaving less than $1,000 on the table, 16 of the 17 optimal lineups have rostered at least one driver priced less than $6,000.
In 11 of the past 12 road course races, a driver starting on the front row has led double-digit laps. Likewise, 45% of the top 10 DK scores across the two Xfinity races at COTA came from drivers starting in the top 10. Once cars get spread out on this long track, there are limited passing opportunities, which I expect to be exaggerated even more with the removal of stage cautions.
Four drivers have started worse than 25th at COTA and achieved a top 10 score: Brandon Jones, Ryan Sieg, Michael Annett, and Riley Herbst. It goes to show that punts may not work unless in above average to elite equipment. Again, qualifying will be a huge determining factor, though.
EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix - Cup Series
Sunday, March 26, 2023
The green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to drop at 3:30 pm ET. The race length is set for 68 laps, yielding a maximum 45.8 dominator points. The entry list is a little more intriguing than usual this week…
Former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen will be competing again for Trackhouse Racing. 7-time Cup Series champion and team owner Jimmie Johnson will be making his 2nd start of the year for Legacy MC. Another Formula One champion Jenson Button will be competing in the #15 Rick Ware Racing (Stewart-Haas) Ford Mustang as well. Last, but certainly not least, renowned sports car racer, Jordan Taylor, will be piloting the #9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy. Needless to say, the stars are out in Texas this weekend!
Last spring’s race generated one of the most exciting finishes of the season and a storyline that would last throughout the year: Ross Chastain was fast. Ross Chastain will hit. Ross Chastain doesn’t care. Check out the finish here: https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2022/03/27/ross-chastain-smashes-his-way-to-first-career-cup-series-win-in-last-lap-clash-at-cota/
Trackhouse Racing was incredibly fast on road courses last season with both Chastain and Daniel Suarez picking up their first career wins at COTA and Sonoma, respectively. Team owner Justin Marks attributed their early success with the Next Gen car to his IMSA and Trans-Am Series background, saying that the new cars raced more similarly to those than the previous Cup car.
It will be interesting to see if they keep that same speed this weekend. Toyotas, on the other hand, were absolutely dreadful on road courses early in the season. If you remove Christopher Bell’s playoff win at the Charlotte ROVAL, it would look even more bleak. I’m intrigued to see how Tyler Reddick does in his Toyota Camry after winning at Road America and Indianapolis in 2022 with RCR, while Kyle Busch looks to improve on his 2022 JGR performance in his new Chevrolet Camaro.
Hendrick Motorsports has been very fast to start the 2023. William Byron has two wins on different track types already, while Kyle Larson has been quietly the fastest car in the field the past two weeks. He even picked up 22 fastest laps in Fontana after electrical issues. This year’s road course package features less downforce than last year, making it more similar to the 2021 package, albeit in a different body. In 2021, Kyle Larson dominated on the road courses after having little prior success on the track type. Will he be the fastest again this week and embark on a heater? We’ll see, but I want to be early to the party.
Despite the differing weather conditions over the past two years at COTA, one thing has remained constant: The best road course drivers found their way to the front. I wouldn’t be shocked to see AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, or Ty Gibbs performing well, either.
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As usual, for premium members, we will have full driver-by-driver breakdowns, expert rankings, and projections for both races this weekend, in addition to a slate strategy article and podcast for Cup.
Have a great week, and we’ll look forward to you winning with us again this weekend!
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