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If the Daytona 500 truly is The Great American Race, then the way the prize money gets distributed is the great American mystery. That’s because NASCAR stopped reporting the purse breakdowns for races after the charter system went into effect.

Fortunately, it’s finally possible to make an educated guess regarding how much the top finishers will take home from Daytona International Speedway following the Cup Series’ first points race of the season.

The Daytona 500 gets the NASCAR season off to a big start

Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning  the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2020. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2020. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s been three-plus months since drivers have competed in a NASCAR event that matters, and the Daytona 500 is always a huge kickoff to the Cup Series season.

Daytona Beach has been at the very heart of NASCAR, and the bond grew stronger in 1959 with the debut of Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile oval. In 1982, NASCAR made the Daytona 500 the first race on the schedule and began reinforcing its status as the most important event of the season.

More recently, the Championship 4 has eclipsed Daytona in importance, but “the 500” continues to enjoy special status because any of the 40 competitors can win the race and all the perks that come with it.

Not insignificantly, that includes a whopper of a paycheck.

The charter system has changed the Daytona 500 payout

The 1985 NASCAR Cup Series season earned Bill Elliott the nickname “Million Dollar Bill” because he picked up a seven-figure bonus by winning the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega, and the Southern 500 at Darlington. That was a first in the sport’s history and garnered NASCAR considerable national attention.

However, the season’s other $1 million milestone came in Week 1 when the total purse for the Daytona 500 eclipsed that sum, setting a record for NASCAR. Elliott’s share as the winner that day was $185,500.

The numbers kept climbing steadily over the years. When the 1998 purse soared by more than 80% over the previous year, Dale Earnhardt became the first Daytona 500 champion to collect more than $1 million. Four years later, the total purse for the field swelled to more than $10 million.

Then, the tote board went dark after the 2015 season. With the institution of the charter system, NASCAR stopped releasing race-by-race financial data. How the money is shared has remained a closely held secret among the series executives and the owners of the 36 Cup Series charters.

The 2023 Daytona 500 champion will likely earn around $2.3 million

Early last season, NASCAR did return to the practice of announcing total purses ahead of races, and it typically falls between $7 million and $8 million per Cup race. However, this week’s announcement that Cup Series teams would share $26,934,357 was the first time fans learned the Daytona 500 figure since 2015, when Joey Logano won the race on the superspeedway.

Logano’s check that season was $1,586,503 out of a total purse of $18,133,235. If we increase the winner’s share by the same 46.88% that the total purse climbed in eight years, then the payout to the top finisher should be around $2.33 million.

However, that’s still a guesstimate. As pointed out by Fox Sports reporter Bob Pockrass, there is an added variable: An unknown portion of the purse goes to charter teams based on points accumulated over the past three years. So that would suggest that someone like Chase Elliott stands to pocket more than Chris Buescher or Daniel Suarez would earn for finishing in the same position.

If we follow the above formula, however, second place in the 2023 Daytona 500 should be worth about $1.7 million, substantially ahead of $1.44 million for third place.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected].