For many, the world of NASCAR driving is one that looks pretty exciting and glamorous in many ways. It’s a dangerous thing they do, flying cars around circuits at 200-mph for hundreds of laps, but with that risk comes the potential rewards of fame, glory, and great wealth.
NASCAR Cup Drivers income stems from Salaries from the teams, sponsorships, merchandise deals, endorsements, and shares of the prize money. At the top of NASCAR racing this can amount to millions a year. The top ten 2021 drivers earnt on average 10.4 million dollars. However, Xfinity and truck series will be much less.
But is that the real story? How much do NASCAR drivers really make, anyway? Can anyone be sure? Do their teams offer them a fixed salary? Is everything they do dependent on them being able to win races? We’re going to take a closer look at NASCAR drivers, how they make money and, most importantly, how much a driver can expect to make.
Background: NASCAR Closing the Door on Prize amounts and Salraries
Before 2016, the numbers used to be fairly transparent when it came to calculating winnings for each team and driver, not to mention pit crews. It has never been a simple matter, but at least it was all known how much there was and exactly where it was going and why.
After 2016, however, the numbers started to become more hush-hush, possibly because the sport was running into financial difficulties and the leadership didn’t want there to be resentment over how money was distributed.
So, while the high-profile earnings of top drivers like Kyle Busch ($16 million 2019, for instance) are quite well known, the story is a bit less clear for the lesser-knowns and the middling drivers.
Purses are more lucrative than ever, though, with winners on average taking $47,500 in prize money per race, and even losers getting $8,500 as an average. Numbers do fluctuate wildly on either side however, depending on how high profile any particular race is and which series we are talking about. .
As we’ll cover in more detail below, the earnings of a NASCAR driver are not just based on prize money from races.
A number of factors get taken into account when working out how much to pay a NASCAR driver after a race and during the course of a season. The main factors include the following:
- Driver merit and skill
- Race record up to now
- Longevity in the sport (seniority)
It’s easy to believe that all NASCAR drivers’ pay must be based on merit and them being skilled enough to win races. Of course, that does form a massive chunk of how drivers get paid. When you finish higher in the rankings, you’ve proven that you’re more skilled than the other drivers, and you do get paid more. That stands to reason.
However, what can seem strange to some people is the fact that a driver who places 13th in a race may well earn more money overall than one who places 11th that day. That seems topsy-turvy, but it starts to make sense when you bring in those other factors.
The phrase “it’s all about the merch” certainly applies well to the NASCAR world. A quick glance at the NASCAR store reveals a huge wealth of merchandise, including t-shirts, racing helmets for display, caps, model cars, tumblers, kids’ toys and a lot more. Drivers can get in on the action if it’s their own persona that’s helping to push certain merchandise.
For drivers personally, endorsements that they may receive from willing companies looking to advertise their goods and services provide an excellent supplement to the race income.
As with any endorsement deal, getting payment depends on first catching the attention and imagination of the company or brand in question, and that’s only something that successful drivers can usually do. You can check out the Sunglasses article here as an example of drivers getting in on Emrch and sponsorships.
Sponsorship is undoubtedly the financial lifeblood that sustains NASCAR teams in general. Drivers that are successful, marketable and otherwise appealing to sponsors will attract them to the team, and that’s another factor that helps to determine how much each driver gets paid.
While the money may not be quite as big in the Xfinity and Truck series for NASCAR, the principle of how the money is generated with each driver is the same. It depends on the same factors of skill, sponsorship and marketability. NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series drivers can expect to get anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 as a main salary based on their seniority and marketability, on top of around $200,000 or so of additional prize money.
There are other bonuses and prizes up for grabs in these racing series, too. For instance, in the NASCAR Truck Series, the team that is leading the championship in points at the conclusion of the Kansas Speedway gets an added $50,000 “road crew bonus.” The number goes up to $75,000 in Knoxville. This money doesn’t all go to drivers, however.
Drivers can pick up interesting prizes in the Truck Series, however, such as the overall winning driver of the championship receiving an electric pickup truck, as well as an electric RV motorhome from Lordstown. Which in truth i would love to win!
- Kyle Busch (Toyota) $17.8 million
- Denny Hamlin (Toyota) $14.6 million
- Kevin Harvick (Ford) $12.2 million
- Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) $11.5 million
- Brad Keselowski (Ford) $10.4 million
- Chase Elliott (Chevrolet) $10.2 million
- Joey Logano (Ford) $10 million
- Kyle Larson (Chevrolet) $8.8 million
- William Byron (Chevrolet) $5 million
- Alex Bowman (Chevrolet) $3.5 million
What perhaps won’t come as any surprise to people is that the very top drivers are all somewhat older and more experienced — for the NASCAR world, at least — with the youngest being Kyle Busch at 36, closely followed by Brad Keselowski at 37, with the rest all north of 40. Until you get to two recent champions in Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. It just goes to show that longevity in the sport is another key factor in earning bigger salaries.
The 3 richest all-time NASCAR drivers are, as you might expect, also perhaps the most famous names in the entire sport:
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. Net Worth: $300 million
- Jeff Gordon Net Worth: $230 million
- Jimmie Johnson Net Worth: $180 million
We do actually have a full article on the site which you can check out on the link here and below.
So NASCAR, like a lot of sports, only starts to earn the really serious money once you start to challenge at the very top levels. Once your Name is starting to be chanted at track side, or starts to appear on NASCAR t-shirts and Jackets, or even on brands of oil or other car products then you knw the big money isn’t far away.
Until that point while the salary will always be high, it won’t be astronomical until the driver is putting the results down on the track. Then salary demands will start to match performances.
Salaries are the main source of income for Drivers in NASCAR, and as they get more high profile results it will start to be matched with endorsements, sponsorship and merchandise deals as well as of course prize money as their results improve.