There are three different income streams that most motorsports fans consider when they look at the salary of a NASCAR driver. This income includes their base salary, their sponsorships, and prize money. At the end of the year, these income streams combine for the final paycheck of any NASCAR driver. When you factor in sponsorships, prize money, and a substantial base salary, it’s not unusual for successful drivers to make millions of dollars annually.
So, what goes into a NASCAR Driver’s salary per season? Do drivers also have sponsorships and endorsements in addition to their salary? Who are some of the highest earners in NASCAR history?
Here is the complete breakdown of how much drivers make in NASCAR.
What Goes into a NASCAR Driver’s Salary?
A driver’s base salary is how much money a team pays them before bonuses or sponsorship dollars. This base salary combines experience and how often they win races. The more often they win races, the more they will earn via their base salary in their career.
What about Sponsorships and Endorsement Deals for NASCAR Drivers?
Sponsorships are endorsement deals that drivers make with outside companies as part of a marketing deal. It’s easy to see which sponsors work with a driver because their logo is usually present on their fire suit and vehicle. Racecar drivers will also often use the product during the race if possible. You may see your favorite driver wearing specific sunglasses or drinking a particular sports drink to help market the product.
How Does Prize Money Work for a NASCAR Driver’s Salary?
The most complicated part of a driver’s salary is prize money. Historically, NASCAR races published their prize purses as public information. However, that changed in 2016 when NASCAR adopted a new charter system that guaranteed race entry to long-term racing teams.
Adopting that charter system allowed races to keep their prize purses secret if they chose to. Drivers don’t get all of their race winnings. Usually, they have a contract with the race team which specifies how to divide the purse.
Usually, drivers get 40 percent of the purse, while the team gets 60 percent, which goes to the team members and the pit crew.
Who Are Some of The Highest Paid NASCAR Drivers?
Some of the highest-paid drivers are the fan favorites you see winning every Sunday. These drivers also bring in large sponsorship deals. These drivers also work with long-standing auto racing teams, like Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports.
Kyle Busch is the highest-paid NASCAR driver, with an estimated annual salary of over $16,900,000. What makes him NASCAR’s highest-paid driver is that he participates in all three NASCAR series, including the truck series, the Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Cup Series.
Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin, is the second-highest-paid driver, with an estimated salary of $13,100,000. Kevin Harvick, who drives for Stewart-Haas, is the third highest-paid driver with a salary of $9,900,000.
Did NASCAR Drivers Make More During a Different Era?
However, these salaries are relatively modest compared to some of the salaries drivers brought in in the late 2000s. The highest-earning NASCAR driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made over $30 million in 2009. Jeff Gordon is the second-highest earner with $27 million in the same year.
Who Are The Lowest Paid NASCAR Drivers?
With so many NASCAR Cup Series drivers making tens of millions of dollars a year, it’s hard to imagine someone making less than a million driving. However, new stock car drivers often make between $100,000 and $500,000 a year as they enter the sport. The lowest-paid driver among chartered NASCAR teams is Corey Lajoie, who made $200,000 in 2021.
How Does the NASCAR Charter System Impact Earnings?
NASCAR doesn’t have many financial regulations that many other sports have. It doesn’t have a salary cap, league minimums, or maximums for driver compensation. Instead, NASCAR has a charter that allows the organization to ensure that the best teams are represented in every race so that stock car racing fans can enjoy the best races possible.
The NASCAR charter system is a way that the sport guarantees race entries to well-known, successful teams. Historically, teams had to qualify for every race they wanted to enter. When the charter system was adopted, teams could essentially buy a pass into each race, ensuring they always had an opportunity to access prize winnings.
NASCAR adopted this charter system in 2016. This new set of rules also impacted how races could be run. First, it allowed races to keep their prize purses secret. Before the charter system, races would publish their prize purses as part of marketing for the race. Posting the prize amount allowed fans and journalists to understand better how the financials behind NASCAR worked. After 2016, the first publicly announced prize purse was for the 2020 Daytona 500, which had a record-breaking $23.6 million allocated to winnings.
What About Non-Chartered Spots in NASCAR?
While NASCAR guarantees all chartered teams an entry into every race, the parent organization holds four non-chartered spots open that allows small teams to try and qualify for races. This guarantee enables smaller teams to enter races and eventually work their way up to joining the grid. These teams usually have fewer resources than chartered teams, which means their drivers make much less than others on the grid.
By having the charter, NASCAR ensures teams can pay their drivers more by ensuring they always have a space on the starting grid and always have an opportunity to make the most money on race day.
Conclusion: How Much NASCAR Drivers Make?
Finding out how much each NASCAR driver makes isn’t as easy as in other sports. Fans and experts must consider the impact that a base salary, winnings, and sponsorship dollars all have on a driver’s bottom line. While most racers bring in over a million dollars a year, a few new drivers are making significantly less.
Next time you watch a NASCAR race, take note of the sponsors on each car because they’re helping to make sure your favorite driver makes it to the next race.