NASCAR is one of the biggest motorsports in the world in terms of fan base, but also in terms of the amount of money involved. Money comes from many different sources in the world of NASCAR, but one that people focus on is the prize money, and how much of it each driver gets to keep.
NASCAR drivers do not generally get to keep all of the prize money from races (generally only keeping up to about 50%). The money is split between them and the team, with the mechanics and various other staff that need to be paid. This means the drivers only earn a percentage of the winnings.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to dividing up the prize money. These factors include the amount itself, the experience of the driver, and the team for whom they race. Below, I take a look at these factors in more detail, along with some examples.
Note: NASCAR doesn’t reveal much about prize money anymore, so it’s tough to find exact figures unfortunately. However, I have provided estimates throughout this article.
How NASCAR Winnings Are Divided Up
Every NASCAR race is different, and some will offer bigger prize pools than others. But normally, no matter the amount of prize money available, it will be divided proportionally between the 40 drivers, with the winner getting the biggest share and the ones at the bottom of the pack getting the smallest. At least, that is how it would appear to be in the simplest case.
In reality, there is a lot more involved in the division of the prize funds for NASCAR races. There are what are known as prize plans, and each team will be on a different one depending on a variety of factors. These include things like the team’s performance in the current season and in the previous season, and very importantly it is a lot to do with the specific sponsors of the team.
Broadcasters & Sponsors
The money for the prize pools of each race comes from a variety of sources. The biggest chunk of NASCAR’s money comes from the TV companies. The broadcasters that show the races need to pay to do so, and they pay the venue and organizers a fee in order to show it to their viewers. The rest of the money comes from the race sponsors, of which there are plenty.
These specific sponsors want to see a return on their investment, as do the broadcasters of course. This means they will want to gain as much exposure as they can during the race, and from the right people. Different teams have different sponsors, and the sponsors of each race will hope that they are endorsing those that do well, as this will look best for the brand.
This means they will pay an extra fee each race to the teams that are running cars with their brand on them, as an extra incentive to try and do well (not that the teams need one, as everyone wants to win). These types of winnings are called contingency money. In other words, in order for the teams to get this money, they need to meet the requirements of the sponsors.
But this does mean that some teams can earn more money than those that finish ahead of them, simply due to the fact that they earn bonus sponsor money. However, the winner has always won the most, and this is unlikely to ever change. But those lower down the field can walk away with more money than those in the top ten if they have a lot of sponsors.
One of the main prize plans is the Winners’ Circle prize plan. This comprises the top 10 teams from the previous season along with two wildcard picks. Being in this plan allows teams to claim bonus prize money in every race no matter where they finish, and so it’s a big incentive to do well consistently.
Other plans are not well publicized, like a lot of the financial aspects of NASCAR, but they do usually involve various factors such as how the team is doing this season, how they performed in the previous season, and how long they have been in the sport. It results in a rather confusing prize structure, but it rewards teams for doing well consistently.
How Much Is The Prize Money In NASCAR?
Most races in a NASCAR season offer at least $4 million in total prize money, with some offering closer to $6 million. With 36 races in a typical season, that can be around $150 million up for grabs every year. It should be noted that we are talking about the NASCAR Cup series in this article, and the prize money totals for the other series will usually be substantially lower.
There are other prizes paid out, usually by sponsors, for those who get the fastest lap and for the best strategic move during the race, but these will vary by race and their amounts can be in the low to the high thousands of dollars. Once the money has been divided up, first place may be allotted close to $100,000, with last place taking home a couple of thousand dollars.
There are obviously exceptions to this, such as the Daytona 500. This race regularly offers more than $10 million in total prize money, with the 2023 edition offering the highest ever payout at $24.6 million. A good example comes out of this race of how much the teams can make from total prize money, even when they finish quite low down on the grid.
BK Racing, which no longer races in NASCAR, finished 20th in the 2018 race, yet they still managed to bring in nearly $420,000 of the $15 million pool. That works out to be around 2.8% of the total prize fund. In Atlanta that year, they finished 36th and brought home just over $91,000. That was around 3.6% of the total ($2.477 million), which is a larger proportion than what they earned for finishing higher at Daytona.
This illustrates the disparity between races, with a large focus on sponsorships meaning that different races favor different teams. So, with the winnings ranging from several thousand to several million dollars for each race – when contingency money and the various prize plans are taken into account – how much of that does the driver take home?
How Much Of The Prize Money Do NASCAR Drivers Get?
It is no secret that some NASCAR drivers are multimillionaires. For example, Jimmie Johnson took in around $17.5 million in 2018, with that number being made up of winnings and his salary, along with various endorsements. But even with that massive salary, he only finished 14th in the championship, while Joey Logano, who won the championship, took home a substantially lower $11 million.
But the majority of this money does come from the salaries that the drivers are on, and not the winnings from the races. This is because the race winnings are awarded to the winning car, which means it is split between the driver and the team behind that car. There are also wages to be paid across the team, and so they take a substantial cut out of the total.
It Varies By Team
The percentage of the winnings the team takes will vary by team and by driver, and sometimes by race. The higher the experience level of the driver the more they will generally be able to keep, but some teams use a flat rate system, which might scale depending on how the driver performs. This means if they win, they might get a higher proportion than if they place second and so on.
For less experienced drivers on lower ranked teams, they may only earn whatever they can win. This means the team doesn’t pay them a salary, and instead it is up to the driver to earn their living. But not all teams do this, with some simply opting for a scaled system where the driver gets a base salary, along with small percentages of the prize money each race.
The Common System
As you go further up the field, and towards the top, the drivers will be earning their salary along with bonuses and sponsorship deals, while also earning a scaled percentage of their race winnings. If they win the race, they might take 50% of the winnings plus any relevant bonuses. For finishing in the top 5 they might take 45%, 40% for placing in the top 15, and so on.
This means they might only see a quarter of their race winnings if they finish last, but this is the price they pay for not performing as well as they are expected to. This is usually the practice of the top teams, although the precise divisions and scaling of proportions will vary on a team by team basis. But this means that at most the drivers usually only see around half of the prize money.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR drivers generally only keep a percentage of their race winnings
• Exactly how much they earn will vary depending on a lot of factors
• It’s hard to find exact figures, as NASCAR itself and most teams no longer report winnings
NASCAR is one of the most lucrative motorsports, with prize pools for each Cup race usually coming in at more than $4 million. Although the winning car can take tens of thousands or even millions of dollars home, the driver won’t see all of it. The winnings paid to the driver will depend on where they place, and how the team chooses to distribute the money.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.