NASCAR and IndyCar are two popular motorsport series in America. Both have major fan bases and host some of the biggest events in motorsports every year. Since they attract some of the best drivers in the world, you may therefore wonder who makes more money in the NASCAR vs IndyCar salary debate.
NASCAR drivers make more money than their IndyCar counterparts. The average NASCAR salary is $4-5 million per season, while the average IndyCar driver earns $750,000. The highest-paid driver in NASCAR makes $16.9 million, while the highest-paid IndyCar driver earns $3.1 million.
When measuring NASCAR and IndyCar salaries, it is important to consider the highest and lowest paid drivers in each series, plus the average salaries. We will elaborate on those salaries below, before going into further detail regarding why NASCAR drivers make more money.
How Much Do NASCAR Drivers Make?
NASCAR drivers make an average salary of $4-5 million, with the highest salary reaching almost $17 million per year. However, there are many drivers that earn much less than $5 million, and the salaries in NASCAR are nowhere near the highest salaries in other major sports leagues.
Like all athletes, a NASCAR driver’s salary will vary. Drivers with more experience and accomplishments will almost always earn more money than a newer driver. Further, NASCAR teams vary in value, so drivers who work for more lucrative teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing will often earn more than those driving for lesser-valuable teams like Richard Petty Motorsports.
There is also no salary cap in NASCAR, unlike what you see in the NFL, NHL, and NBA. NASCAR drivers can make whatever their teams and sponsors pay them. But you will never see most of them encroach on what the top-paid players earn in salary cap leagues like those mentioned above.
This is because NASCAR teams are not valued as highly as those in the NFL, with Hendrick Motorsports holding the highest value at $348 million. Joe Gibbs Racing comes in second at $171 million. Let’s contrast those numbers with the most valuable sports teams in salary cap leagues mentioned above.
The Dallas Cowboys clocked in at $5.7 billion while the New York Yankees of the non-salary cap MLB pace the league at $5.25 billion. The New York Knicks lead the NBA at $5 billion, and the New York Rangers are in front of the NHL at $2 billion. Doing the math, the most valuable NHL team is worth almost 6 times more than Hendrick Motorsports.
KEY FACT: NASCAR teams are worth a fraction of the top teams in other major sports leagues in the USA
NASCAR’s Lower Value
The Arizona Coyotes hold the distinction of being the least valuable franchise in the four major North American professional sports leagues, valued at $400 million in December 2021. That number came after a 40% increase in value from 2020 to 2021, which surpassed Hendrick Motorsports by $52 million that year.
Despite the discrepancy in team value, it doesn’t mean you won’t see some NASCAR drivers earning eight figures. This is because a NASCAR team can only have up to four drivers, whereas an NHL team can have up to 23 players on the active roster and even more under contract, with 53 for the NFL, 25-plus in the MLB, and 15 in the NBA.
Although most top NASCAR drivers do not have the same salaries as a top NFL quarterback, NHL goaltender, or star NBA player, they can snag respectable numbers, as the table in the next section will show. It’s worth noting, however, that many full-time and non-full-time NASCAR drivers will earn much less than $1 million per year.
The 5 Highest Paid NASCAR Drivers
|Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||$16.9 million|
|Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||$13.1 million|
|Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||$10.9 million|
|Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||$10.4 million|
|Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||$9.4 million|
You might be surprised that, despite their status as the most valuable team in NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports does not have anyone in the top five. This is likely because the drivers you see listed above are older and more experienced than the Hendrick drivers. At 37, Kyle Busch is the youngest driver on this list while the oldest driver in Hendrick Motorsports is Kyle Larson, who is 30 years old.
How Much Do IndyCar Drivers Make?
Like their NASCAR counterparts, IndyCar drivers’ salaries vary. Like NASCAR, IndyCar teams are nowhere near as valuable as those from the four major North American pro sports leagues, and their lower values will play a role in their drivers’ salaries.
Besides lacking value when compared to other North American sports leagues, IndyCar teams also carry lower value than their NASCAR counterparts. For example, Team Penske is valued at about $108 million, with Chip Ganassi Racing coming in at $69 million. They remain the most valuable teams in IndyCar.
The 5 Highest Paid IndyCar Drivers
|Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||$3.1 million|
|Pato O’Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||$1 million|
|Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||$707,000|
|Felix Rosenqvist||Arrow McLaren SP||$570,500|
|Alex Palou||Chip Ganassi Racing||$569,600|
As you can see, this table illustrates quite a difference compared to what you see from the NASCAR salaries. But with IndyCar being the least popular of the two series, it makes sense that the top paid driver, Marcus Ericsson, is earning just $3.1 million – less than the average NASCAR salary.
NASCAR vs IndyCar Salaries Compared
|Series||Average Salary||Highest Salary||Lowest Salary|
|NASCAR||$4-5 million||$16.9 million||< $200,000|
|IndyCar||$750,000||$3.1 million||< $300,000|
As you can see, IndyCar salaries pale in comparison to NASCAR salaries, both on average and at the top end. IndyCar only has NASCAR beaten in the lowest salary, but this is perhaps due to the fact that NASCAR features many part-time drivers. IndyCar also features some part-time drivers, but there are fewer drivers overall as well.
Which Motorsport Pays The Most?
NASCAR pays more than IndyCar, with the average driver bringing in about $5 million compared to just $750,000 for IndyCar. Kyle Busch makes nearly $17 million, while Marcus Ericsson brings in just $3.1 million, and the latter is one of just a handful of IndyCar drivers who makes seven figures.
One major reason behind NASCAR drivers earning more money than their IndyCar counterparts stems from the fact NASCAR is the older, more established sport that has been around since 1948. And while open-wheel racing has a rich history in America, IndyCar only goes back to 1996 in its modern form, so in terms of major sports leagues, they are right there with Major League Soccer in terms of age.
Is The Tide Turning?
What is even more interesting is the fact NASCAR has lost a significant chunk of their viewership over the past decade while IndyCar has slowly built their audience. Until they reach the same pinnacle in the US that NASCAR has enjoyed for decades, expect IndyCar salaries to be far lower, on average, than those in NASCAR.
NASCAR’s overall viewership and attendance has once again started to increase in the early 2020s, and this could further indicate that their own drivers’ salaries can start increasing. If potential sponsors believe NASCAR to once again become a viable source of exposure, don’t be surprised if NASCAR sees a driver earning over $20 million in the future.
However, both series simply lack the popularity of the biggest motorsport in the world – Formula 1. F1 attracts some of the biggest sponsors on the planet, and has turnover in the billions of dollars. This makes F1 the highest paying motorsport, with some of the drivers’ salaries topping $40-50 million dollars.
NASCAR drivers earn more money than IndyCar drivers. NASCAR drivers earn an average salary of about $5 million, while the average IndyCar driver earns $750,000. The highest-paid NASCAR driver also earns over 5 times more than the highest-paid IndyCar driver.