Each year, the Daytona 500 kicks off a fresh season and it can also be one of the most difficult races to handicap. For that reason, there are a lot of unknowns about how drivers will perform until a few races are run on unrestricted speedways. Salary caps must be set for the first race, and the only data available is from the previous season.
A lot of changes get made during the off-season, however, and these impact driver and team momentum. Major changes like new drivers are relatively easy to project. Once he gets a few races under his belt, Sam Hornish Jr. should be as strong on most tracks in 2015 as Marcos Ambrose was in 2014. Other alterations like crew chief changes are a little more difficult to predict because communication between the cockpit and the pit box is so critical.
There are also intangibles that need to be factored into the initial values. Just as there is as phenomenon that affects second-year drivers called the sophomore slump, teams that had remarkable ends to their season sometimes have a bit of a racing hangover entering the next year. The turnover at the front of the pack is part of what brings fans back year after year. A close eye must be kept on Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano.
With that in mind, here are some of the thoughts that went into setting the initial values.
There are basically three types of drivers each season. The first are those who could be started every week if salary cap considerations were not in play. These are the most expensive drivers valued at more than $25, but to place them on ones’ roster a fantasy player has to be prepared to look for some bargains further down the list.
The second group of drivers is valued somewhere between $12 and $24. These are strong teams who are capable of grabbing a top-10 or -15 when the right changes get made to the car. Predicting these drivers correctly is the key to a player’s success.
Finally, there are bargains valued at less than $12. Every driver in a NASCAR field got his ride by being one of the best in a developmental series, so given the right circumstances nearly any of them can break into the top 20.
The formula that creates an initial sort is based on what we call the Fantasy Power Rankings. This is a combination of a driver’s race finishes and 10 strength-based categories such as average running position, laps in the top 10, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a driver while running among the top 15). The use of these strength-based categories is intended to lessen the impact of drivers who either wreck late in the race after dominating or who win based on strategies such as taking two-tires or their stretching fuel.
Points earned in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game also get factored into the equation. As the season rolls on, more consideration is given to recent races, so the formula looks at the past 60 days’ worth of finishing results and 30 days of strength-based intangibles.
To keep the balance, fulltime drivers should average about $20, which is the $100 salary cap divided by five drivers.
Some driver values will fluctuate every week; some will remain consistent for a while, especially in the case of racers who have dominated for quite some time and are fairly well maxed out. At the beginning of the season, the value fluctuations will be relatively aggressive to catch up to 2015’s potential. Drivers rise and fall until they find their natural level, but since some drivers like Tony Stewart may be stronger at certain points of the season, they will continue to seesaw as the year progresses in order to reflect their current potential.
Logano, Jeff Gordon, Harvick, and Brad Keselowski were the strongest drivers last year. They recorded the best average running positions, laps in the top 15, and dominated Victory Lane, so they are the most expensive drivers at the start of this season.
Throughout the 2015 season keep reading the Cap Considerations article because it will give fantasy owners an idea of who is trending up or down—and who is going to be a good value not only this week, but for some time to come. Knowing the thought process that goes into setting the values will allow players to anticipate and make better place-and-hold choices.