Sports

A Breakdown of How NASCAR Drivers Get Paid

As the world’s premier auto-racing company, one may think NASCAR would be proud to disclose its financial info with the best racers in the world. This is not the case. Since 2016, the company has kept race purses and prize money private. As a result, the specific numbers behind the associations are lost to even the most devoted fans. Here’s what we do know.

NASCAR and its money

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Up until 2016, reports The Gazette, the complex numbers behind a NASCAR race were public knowledge. When a racer crossed the finish line, their name appeared in the results with a monetary value. This value, however, was not wholly dependent on the outcome of a race.

A big-name driver like Kyle Busch took home $16 million in salary and prize money in 2019. But he landed in a similar spot than a lesser-known racer thanks to his agreement with the company. 

These purses were lucrative, with winners making $47,500 and the losers taking home a cool $8,500 on average. This money went to a driver’s team; however, as the people in the garage had to be paid too.

Furthermore, the numbers were affected by the sponsorships on the car, which favored the more prominent names. In 2014, NASCAR’s Vice President, Jim Cassidy, talked about the finances.

“NASCAR is fortunate to have a strong foundation of partners that play a significant role in our sport, including financial support at each of the events as well as year-end awards,” Cassidy said to The Gazette. “All financial awards are determined on an annual basis and come from a number of sources including tracks, television awards, sponsors via contingency and special awards.”

However, this all changed two years later when the league got more secretive about their financial numbers. 

Figuring out the missing numbers

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Leading up to the 2020 Daytona 500 was set at a mind-boggling $23.6 million before the race — a record for the sport and the first time that a purse was recorded in over five years. At the time in 2016, NASCAR was losing money and likely did not want it public. 

With a purse such as that, however, the association was thrilled to let the audience know that it was thriving. Despite the secrecy on behalf of NASCAR, however, the best drivers are not hurting.

Being a middling NASCAR driver can make a team millions if they have the right combination of skill and sponsorship. Drivers keep anywhere from 40% to 45% of their purse while the rest is distributed throughout the team. 

How much money do drivers make?

While exact numbers might be hard to come by these days, the methodology to decide the pay is known. Drivers are paid on their merit, records, and longevity in the sport. This is why a 12th-place finisher could theoretically make more than an 11tth-place one. NASCAR drivers don’t have the same multi-year deals that football players and basketball players get. Their earning potential is based entirely on their driving and their marketability. 

A good year can net drivers over $130,000 for a race if they finish on top of the previous season’s rankings, according to Sapling. The most an athlete will likely earn for a single race once everyone else is paid, however, is less than a million when taking out the sponsorship money. Lucrative names like Dale Earnhardt need to win to make their money, but it’s more about the ensuing sponsorships than an incentive program within the racing world. 

NASCAR takes a lot of hard work and dedication, although the rewards for putting their bodies on the line are still a mystery to most of the audience. Whatever the numbers are, driving is a lucrative sport for those who are good enough to break into the front, and the pay of those who aren’t isn’t too shabby, either.