NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Cook Out 400

Austin Swaim
Austin SwaimASwaim3
NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Cook Out 400

If you are looking for an action-packed way to consume sports on the weekend, NASCAR may be a great avenue to explore. Far from just driving in circles, some of the world's best compete nearly every weekend from February to November on tracks across America.

NASCAR drivers are scored ultimately based on how they finish in the race, how many spots they advance from their starting position, and how many laps they finish and lead. Avoiding drivers who crash out of the race is a must, though!

FanDuel Research is always your home for fantasy NASCAR advice. In addition to this helper, Jim Sannes takes a look at the best bets of the weekend in his betting guide.

With all of this in mind, let's preview this weekend's Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway from the perspective of playing daily fantasy NASCAR on FanDuel.


Track Primer and General Lineup Strategy

The early-season binge of short, flat ovals continues this weekend in the same state as last.

Martinsville Speedway, the flat, 0.5-mile paperclip in Martinsville, Virginia, is as notorious and unique of a circuit that exists on the Cup Series schedule. Resembling many short tracks across the country, Martinsville's one -- or two if you're lucky -- groove track requires plenty of aggression and contact to move through the field. Increased tire wear in recent years has added a bit of strategy to the race, too.

We're in prime form from a strategy perspective; with 40.0 FanDuel points available for 400 potential laps led, our DFS strategy will be the exact same as it was at Bristol or Richmond. We want one (or two) potential dominant drivers to lead laps at the front, and our value plays will target finishing points -- and hopefully also scoring place-differential points if possible.

Recent races here back up identifying just a pair of frontrunners. In each of the past three events, two different drivers in the race led at least 105 laps while no other drivers eclipsed 70 circuits at the point.

Things get interesting when looking for value plays, though. Of the last 30 top-10 finishers at Martinsville, only 10 of them (33.3%) started outside the top-15 spots. Getting greedy hunting place-differential plays can cost us the best drivers and teams with speed starting at the front, who also come with the appealing element of being far away from getting lapped if an early leader is setting a blistering pace.

We've got enough data from Phoenix and Richmond to guess which cars should be pretty quick this weekend, but I'll still monitor practice times closely when no Cup Series track fully compares to this one.

Driver Rankings

Below are my post-qualifying rankings for each driver based on equipment, starting order, recent form, track history, and overall talent level -- in that order.

Starting Spot is where the drivers will roll off the grid. For potential lap leaders (i.e. high-salaried drivers), closer access to the front is better. For value plays, a lower starting spot gives a higher floor and access to 0.5 points on FanDuel for each position advanced in the order.

Practice Ranks are provided for both 5-lap and 10-lap average data. Those can typically be found at for all times, including different intervals that may be more appropriate for the track type.

Jim's Sims are the win simulations run by FanDuel Research's Jim Sannes. This week's sims were updated after practice and qualifying. Only drivers with a win probability above 0% in the sims or a top-15 finish this season were included in the rankings.

MLT Rank, the driver's weighted average median lap time ranking at the relevant sample of similar racetracks to this weekend, is a great indicator of overall speed. The prior races in the sample (with weight percentage) this week are:

  • Martinsville (Fall 2023) - 40%
  • Richmond (Spring 2024) - 30%
  • Phoenix (Spring 2024) - 30%

Swaim's Rank
Starting Spot
Practice Rank (10-Lap)
Practice Rank (20-Lap)
Jim's Sims
MLT Rank
1Martin Truex, Jr. $13,500 47139.36%3
2Denny Hamlin $14,000 812920.12%2
3Christopher Bell $12,500 20873.96%1
4Kyle Larson $13,000 113817.20%9
5Ryan Blaney $12,000 911115.82%4
6William Byron $11,500 18324.80%12
7Ty Gibbs $10,500 1518143.24%10
View Full Table

Potential Lap-Leaders

Martin Truex Jr. ($13,500)

After getting robbed a week ago due to a late caution, Martin Truex Jr. is probably coming back for vengeance at another of his best tracks.

Truex is a three-time Martinsville winner -- all since the start of 2019 with Toyota. The veteran usually lags behind on the practice charts, focusing on raceability and comfort over single-lap speed, but two top-15 times on both the 10-lap and 20-lap charts could mean trouble for the field.

His third-place rank in my median blend is reflective of speed across the board, including a 10th-place median time at Martinsville last October when he was already eliminated from contention.

MTJ is my pick to win today's race and sits at +700 to do so, per the NASCAR odds at FanDuel.

Kyle Larson ($13,000)

If Truex Jr. is going to dominate, it could have to be in similar fashion to last week. He'll have to go around Kyle Larson.

Larson won the pole and led 144 laps at last week's short, flat oval, but I'm sure he's hoping for better than a fourth-place finish. From a DFS perspective, we'd simply take a repeat performance.

"Yung Money" is also the defending winner of the spring race here at Martinsville, but it wasn't nearly as dominant (30 laps led) as you might have expected.

Larson was bad fast in Richmond last week, but two median times outside the top 10 at Martinsville and Phoenix in the sample do leave a path to failure for the polesitter. Another? Several of the top cars beyond Truex and Larson appear to profile as equal contenders.

Others to Consider

  • Denny Hamlin ($14,000)
    • Things seem to keep falling Hamlin's way, and he's 2-for-2 at short tracks in 2024. I was underweight on him in tournaments last week but won't make the same mistake this week.
  • Christopher Bell ($12,500)
    • Holding the fastest median blend in the sample, Bell also posted top-8 times on the 10-lap and 20-lap practice charts. Starting 20th, he's an awesome flex play even if he may not have the top-end speed of other contenders.
  • Ryan Blaney ($12,000)
    • The last time the Cup Series was here, Blaney won and punched the ticket he needed to eventually win the championship. Exactly 11th on the 10-lap and 20-lap practice charts, he'll likely have decent speed to contend despite a down year for Ford overall.

Mid-Range Threats

William Byron ($11,500)

William Byron slid into what I consider the upper-mid-range this week, but the former Martinsville winner has impressed in practice this weekend.

Byron posted a top-three average time on the 10-lap and 20-lap charts, which was the top-end speed I sooner expected out of Larson or Truex. However, as others came to play in qualifying, Willie B slipped to 18th on the starting grid.

That's not far enough back to be concerned about getting lapped, and he appears to have a pretty solid car the longer the run goes.

Though he's likely popular because of his starting spot and the pair of wins thus far in 2024, no one else in this range has nearly the case to contend for the win. That's worth plenty.

Bubba Wallace ($7,800)

It was surprising that Bubba Wallace ran in the tire tracks of Larson and Truex at Richmond, but that surprise is quickly becoming a trend.

Wallace just barely missed sitting on the pole instead of Larson, and his practice session was arguably more impressive. Bubba was third on the 10-lap charts and fourth on the 20-lap charts, arguably asserting himself as the fastest car in the field on that alone.

This has always been one of Wallace's best tracks, riding a streak of three straight top-11 finishes before what appears to be a breakout 2024 campaign.

If using salary on a driver like Bell or Byron that will need time to make it to the front, Wallace is an awesome fit for that lineup should he work his way around Larson to lead the race early.

Others to Consider

  • Ty Gibbs ($10,500)
    • The 21-year-old was a total non-factor at Richmond last week, and he's yet to record a top-15 finish in three appearances at Martinsville. I'd like to buy his early-season speed, but he seems like a pass when a stars-and-scrubs approach today with better contenders seems natural.
  • Chris Buescher ($8,500)
    • It feels like the #17 has started deep in the field all season. Buescher rolls off 30th today, and while riding a nice streak of top-10 finishes, I'm not sure he showed the speed in practice to burn me for not prioritizing him.

Value Plays

Ryan Preece ($6,200)

Without a doubt, today's top value plug is Ryan Preece.

Preece has finished in the top 10 in three of the four stages he's completed with Stewart-Haas Racing at Martinsville, and while luck has gotten in the way of the end result, he's shown speed -- and done it again this weekend.

The Berlin native had the fastest 10-lap average in practice, which did dissipate to 17th on the 20-lap charts. Even if he's not a true contender deep into the run, he'll almost certainly challenge for a top-20 finish to pay off this salary.

I wasn't too shocked by his practice speed when Preece's efforts at the other three tracks led to the 13th-best median blend entering the weekend. He'll start 22nd, which is about as good of a balance of place-differential upside and avoiding an early lap lost as it gets here.

Austin Cindric ($4,500)

I feel like Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton love to troll me with practice times, but Cindric's elite Penske Racing equipment for this salary is worth the plunge.

Cindric was exactly 10th on both the 10-lap and 20-lap average charts, and he backed that up with a 14th-place starting spot. That's a safe spot to avoid going a lap down early.

He's run into an issue at two of the three races in this week's sample, but his MLT blend still ranked sixth overall. He also posted three consecutive top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series here.

At the risk of falling for the trap again, the #2 is a solid punt in lineups passing on Preece.

Others to Consider

  • Chase Briscoe ($7,200)
    • Wish he wasn't starting fifth. Briscoe topped the 20-lap average charts, but I can't really see him working around Larson, Hamlin, and Truex Jr. in a race setting, leaving minimal opportunities to accrue points. He's fine.
  • Todd Gilliland ($5,800)
    • Front Row Motorsports is now a Tier 1 Ford team, but that speed has translated more to Gilliland than teammate Michael McDowell. T.G. was sixth on both the 10-lap and 20-lap charts.
  • Erik Jones ($5,000)
    • Both Legacy Motor Club Toyotas seem down on speed from practice, but that was also the case last week as Jones navigated his way to a 14th-place finish. His 17th-place starting spot is right in the place-differential/safety sweet spot that Preece and Cindric are.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.