How NASCAR Splits The Prize Money

How does 20th place sometimes earns more than 10th?

LOUDON, NH - JULY 24: Dale Jarrett, driver of the #88 UPS Ford, during practice for the Siemens 300 on July 24, 2004 at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.
Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images

NASCAR's sanctioning body used to display career winnings and each race's total purse on the official box score within the official results up until the 2016 season. It had provided race winnings ever since its 1948 inception because money earned was synonymous with motorsports heritage. Then, with the advent of the Sprint Cup Charter System, that practice was no longer used. NASCAR ended a tradition that went back more than six decades because of its new ownership model.

The series also once listed each event’s total purse on entry blanks and box scores, but that ended after the 2015 season as well. 

Why the Change? 

The decision was made to no longer disclose total purse and individual winnings for each race and driver because NASCAR feels that this information is no longer germane to the new system that was announced during the 2016 NASCAR Media Tour. This new system guaranteed revenue and race attendance for 36 teams with charters. Another four open cars—those without a charter that guarantees making the race—could round out each field for a maximum of 40 cars.

The Current System 

Under the current system, NASCAR awards guaranteed revenues for charter teams based on entering each race and the team's performance over the last three racing seasons. These 36 teams will also compete for a points fund with more cash.

The fourth and final source of income for chartered teams is what used to be called the purse, but this is now dependent solely on finishing position. The charter and open teams compete for the same pool of money in what is known as the “variable” purse that is based on results in addition to the “fixed” purse that offers guaranteed money in much larger amounts for the charter teams. This is something of a holdover from the old system that rewarded the most competitive teams.

Other Nuggets of the Provision

Open teams also will receive a guaranteed amount, referred to as a “fixed purse," just as the charter teams do. But these winnings will be much smaller, roughly 30 percent of the guarantee for a chartered team.

If fewer than four open teams compete in a race, the leftover money is placed in a year-end pool that will be distributed among the top three open teams based on performance.

Some Potential Drawbacks

Under the current system, it's possible that a driver who finishes in last place may earn more money than someone else who fared far better. Opponents of the new system argue that this promotes controversial "start and park" tactics where a team will start the race, run a few laps, then call it a day and head to the garage. Why do such a thing? The practice is said to be a strategy designed to avoid damage and wear to the car and the necessity of paying a pit crew while still collecting prize money. In actuality, however, there does not seem to have been an increase in the use of this tactic.

And although that last place finisher might still receive a decent paycheck, the winner of the race still fares best financially so drivers still have an incentive to win.