How Much Money Do NASCAR Drivers Make?

Surprisingly, NASCAR drivers make more money than players in any organized professional sport except the NBA. The typical driver makes over $1.5 million a year. As we explain below, that $1.5 million is only salary. NASCAR drivers also make money from winnings, endorsements and merchandise money. In fact, the middle-of-the-road NASCAR driver makes more from race winnings than from salary at over $2.5 million a year. Factoring that in makes NASCAR drivers the highest paid of any televised competitive sport. That’s in terms of typical drivers. The top drivers in the sport don’t do as well when they’re compared to other sports. NASCAR’s top money maker is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In 2015 he made nearly $15 million in salary and winnings, plus another $9 million from endorsement deals for a total of almost $24 million. Compare that to a big NBA star like LeBron James. James makes over $23 million in salary, plus an estimated $25 million a year from endorsement deals. That’s a total of $25 million. So while the typical NASCAR driver makes more money than players in other sports, the same can’t be said for the top earners.

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make

The typical NASCAR driver makes $5 million a year from all sources. That includes race winnings, salary, merchandise royalties and endorsements. The median salary alone for NASCAR is $1.5 million. “Median” means that half the drivers in the sport make more than that and half make less. Looking at the highest paid driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rules the field with $23.6 million in total earnings for 2015. $14.6 million of that money comes directly from salary and winnings, with the rest from endorsements. The highest paid female driver is Danica Patrick. She earned a total of $13.8 million from all sources in 2015. One surprising thing about her is that she’s on the bottom end of the top ten highest paid NASCAR drivers with $7.8 million in salary in winnings, but she more than makes up for it with endorsement deals of $6 million a year total. It seems Patrick is valued more highly by fans and sponsors than she is by her team at Stewart-Haas Racing.

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make
Typical NASCAR driver pay (all sources)$5,091,586
Typical NASCAR driver salary$1,542,062
Highest paid NASCAR driver (Salary & winnings, Dale Earnhardt Jr.)$14,600,000
Highest paid male NASCAR driver (Overall earnings, Dale Earnhardt Jr.)$23,600,000
Highest paid female NASCAR driver (Danica Patrick)$13,800,000

Typical NASCAR Driver Money by Year

How much money NASCAR drivers makeThe table below shows median NASCAR pay by year. Why “median” instead of “average?” Averages fall prey to being bent out of shape by the biggest numbers in the field. In other words, in a group of ten people were nine make $60,000 a year and one is LeBron James, the average salary would be $2.3 million while the median is a far more descriptive $60,000. The table below shows the change of a few median numbers over time. The first column contains driver salary. The base salary of the run-of-the-mill NASCAR driver in 2006 was an impressive $917,669. It has grown by an impressive 68% since then to $1.54 million. That alone would be impressive, but there are also race winnings to consider. NASCAR money is handled something like golf money. Each race has a certain pool of money that gets divided up depending how each driver finishes. For instance, Kevin Harvick finished second in the Daytona 500 in 2015, giving him $1,157,195 in prize money for the event. Joey Logano finished first and got a higher $1,586,503. Clint Bowyer finished 7th and got $437,178, and so on. The typical NASCAR driver scored $2.57 million in race winnings in 2015. Adding up median salary, race winnings and endorsement money puts the median NASCAR driver’s total pay up over $5 million per year.

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make by Year
YearTypical NASCAR Driver SalaryMedian NASCAR Driver Race WinningsMedian NASCAR Driver Total Earnings

Also see: How Much Money Does an NBA Player Make?

10 Highest Paid NASCAR Drivers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Net Worth from WinningsThe table below shows the top ten highest paid NASCAR drivers. Interestingly, one of them is a woman, which we don’t tend to see in professional sports. Danica Patrick is the 8th highest paid NASCAR driver in the world, though it’s thanks only in small part to her salary. Patrick’s salary is $3.9 million, which doesn’t measure up to others in the top ten list. She earned another $3.8 million from race winnings in 2015, but the biggest chunk of her money that year came from $6 million in endorsement deals. Patrick is a corporate darling, landing big deals with GoDaddy, Nature’s Bakery, Aspen Dental, Peak Antifreeze, Coca Cola and others. The #1 highest paid NASCAR driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt made $23.6 million in 2015. That’s $14.6 million from salary and winnings and $9 million from endorsements. Without endorsement deals, the top ten highest paid drivers make about $10 million less than the top 10 NBA players.

Top 10 Highest Paid (Salary) NASCAR driver in 2015
DriverWinnings and SalaryEndorsementsTotal Earnings
Dale Earnhardt Jr.$14,600,000$9,000,000$23,600,000
Jimmie Johnson$15,700,000$6,500,000$22,200,000
Jeff Gordon$14,000,000$4,500,000$18,500,000
Kevin Harvick$13,000,000$2,500,000$15,500,000
Denny Hamlin$13,000,000$2,000,000$15,000,000
Tony Stewart$10,500,000$4,000,000$14,500,000
Kyle Busch$12,900,000$1,500,000$14,400,000
Danica Patrick$7,900,000$6,000,000$13,900,000
Carl Edwards$12,600,000$1,200,000$13,800,000
Kasey Kahne$10,400,000$1,500,000$11,900,000

Also see: How Much Money Do Pro Golfers Make?

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make by Source

The typical NASCAR driver makes more money from winnings than from salary and the least money from endorsements and merchandise royalties. Drivers in the upper 10% make a significantly higher portion of their total earnings from endorsements. The drivers who create most of the TV ratings naturally get more sponsor dollars. The table below shows how the median driver’s pay breaks down by category.

NASCAR Driver Pay by Source
Median Winnings$2,570,104
Median Salary$1,542,062
Median Merchandise Royalties$514,021
Median Endorsements$465,398
Total Median pay$5,091,586

NASCAR Pay: The Democratic Money Sport

Danica Patrick NASCAR payNASCAR’s money distribution method is possibly the most democratic of all competitive TV events. Why? Take a look at the data below. NASCAR drivers enjoy a very similar median and average pay level. Simply put, that means the drivers at the top aren’t eating up a disproportionate amount of the sport’s money. In the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL, the top ten or twenty earners throw the averages out of whack. For example, the average NBA salary is about double the typical salary. The average NFL salary is more than double the median. The average MLB player makes eight times the typical player. Yet in the NASCAR world, average and typical are the same. There are no LeBrons or Ortiz’s blowing out the curves. Looked at another way, what other major televised sport pits women against men on the same playing field? It’s true that Danica Patrick is the only well known female driver in the league, but there are 12 other active female drivers and there have been nearly 100 women drivers throughout the history of the sport. While that’s not exactly equality, it’s a lot closer to it than the NBA or NFL. NASCAR may have a bit further to go in terms of race. While there are a few black NASCAR drivers, the field does not exactly overflow with them.

Here's Why NASCAR Pays More Equally than Other Sports
Median NASCAR Driver Money$2,570,104
Average NASCAR Driver Money$2,700,958

Also see: How Much Money Do NFL Players Make?

Do NASCAR Drivers Get to Keep All their Money?

To an extent, NASCAR drivers have to plow some of their winnings back into their racing teams to pay staff salaries and for upkeep on equipment. The data in this article are based on available NASCAR winnings reported by sports statistics site Figures for salary, endorsements and merchandise earnings are gleaned from media reports and estimates, adjusted by known numbers from stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr.

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make vs Other Sports

NASCAR money vs other sportsEndorsement pay aside, NASCAR drivers do quite well compared to other sports stars. Even excluding all winnings, merchandise royalties and sponsor money, the typical NASCAR driver earns more than comparable players from every other league except the NBA. Top end players in the other leagues generally do better than NASCAR drivers, with the exception of the NHL. Top paid NBA, MLB and NFL players generally earn about twice the total money of a NASCAR driver in the highest salary bracket. One other drawback to NASCAR is the low number of drivers. The major league sports mostly have room for over a thousand players each, with the exception of the NBA. Even pro golf manages to fit in 241 players. In NASCAR, only 82 full time drivers fill the ranks, making the odds of becoming a pro driver a lot lower than succeeding in the other sports.

How Much Money NASCAR Drivers Make vs Other Sports
Pro Sports LeagueMedian Pay 2016Max Number of Players

Like finding out how much big sports figures make? Check out our post here on how much money MLB players make, or this post about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s net worth.