How NASCAR Prize Money Works

By: Kristen Hall-Geisler  | 

Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace, driver of the No. 23 DoorDash Toyota, races during the last chance qualifier for the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Feb. 6, 2022. His team, 23XI Racing, is part of the charter system. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Lots of people drive fast simply for the fun of it; however, for the lucky few who make it as drivers in the NASCAR series, driving fast is more than just a passion, it's also a job. It may sound like a great way to make a living, but when it comes right down to it, being a NASCAR driver is still just a job.

So, how does NASCAR take a bunch of fast-moving cars and turn it into paychecks for the participating drivers and their respective teams? That question used to be a lot easier to answer, and included things like ticket sales, merchandising, endorsements and sponsorships, as well as prize money — the purse money that's up for grabs at each race. But things changed in February 2016 when NASCAR executives and team owners announced a long-term agreement known as the owner charter system.

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In this article, we'll explain the charter system, more about how NASCAR drivers and teams are now paid (as much as we can anyway), and who gets the biggest share of winnings in this new system.

NASCAR Purse Money

Joey Logano Daytona 500
Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, takes the checkered flag in 2015 to win the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Logano took home a whopping $1,586,503 for the win. Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images

For decades — from the beginning of NASCAR in 1948 through 2015 — the stock car racing series posted what's called "the purse" in the box scores for every race on the schedule. Drivers would negotiate contracts with team owners for a salary, plus they could receive a percentage of each week's purse. The purses depended on the size and importance of the race; big tracks had big payouts, and small tracks had smaller payouts.

Anyone who wanted to know how much money was being paid out for that weekend's race could easily find out. You could even learn how much the race winner would have deposited in his account.

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For instance, in numbers from 2015, the last year before the charter system was in place, those numbers were big. When Denny Hamlin won the 2015 STP 500 at Martinsville, he took home $166,760. But when Joey Logano won Daytona that year, he got a whopping $1,586,503. That's by far the highest purse of any race that year. The second-highest payout for winning was at the Texas Motor Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson earned $523,501, less than a third of the Daytona purse.

But payouts for drivers have changed with the new charter system. Keep reading to learn how things work now.

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The Charter System Explained

Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson's (seen at the podium with his young son) team owner, HendrickCars.com, has four cars in the charter system. Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The new charter system overhauled the ways drivers are paid because it created 36 ownership charters in NASCAR. These teams have regular sponsors and drivers, plus reliable race results. According to Autoweek, the 36 ownership charter teams earn shared perks of competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, including having a guaranteed starting position in every race. There are also four open teams in the system that do not have guaranteed revenue. These slots are available to newer teams trying to break into the Sprint Cup circuit.

But each charter is valued differently. Their value is based on things like the team's historic significance and car's standings over several seasons. Compensation for the chartered teams is based on guaranteed revenue, the team's performance over the past three seasons, a points fund with cash payouts, and the race purse, which as always is paid out based on a driver's finishing position. Teams can sell their charters or transfer them to another team. And NASCAR can revoke a team's charter if a team finishes in the bottom three of the 36 charter teams for three consecutive years.

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Despite suggesting it would be transparent with its new financial system, NASCAR won't give details about how it distributes the prize money, even to some drivers. The money now is awarded to teams, not drivers, under this system.

Then-NASCAR chief operating officer Brent Dewar told NBC Sports they decided not to make total purse and individual winnings public for each race because "it's not contemporary" under the charter system. "It's a new foundation and a new era," Dewar said in 2016. "We've changed a lot of things from that old model to this model. That's one of the things that was from a different time and place."

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Prize Money Is Still Massive

Martinsville NASCAR race
Harrison Burton, driver of the No. 20 DEX Imaging Toyota, leads the field during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Cook Out 250 at Martinsville Speedway in April 2021 in Virginia. The purse was published for Martinsville and NASCAR paid out nearly $8 million to the field of teams. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

While who actually gets the money may have changed, the amounts haven't changed much. The race purses — if you can dig and find them that is — are still huge. We know that the purse for the 2021 Phoenix race that ended the season was more than $10 million total, and the 2021 Martinsville race paid out nearly $8 million to the field of teams.

But the purses aren't as big as they used to be. Thanks to a bankruptcy filing by BK Racing in 2018, we got another glimpse into the money paid to teams at the lower end of the new system. BK Racing consistently finished in the back half of the pack. At Daytona — the highest-dollar race on the schedule — BK Racing won $428,794 for 20th place; otherwise, the team never made more than about $100,000 for any race.

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Smaller teams like this might work out an agreement with the driver where the team gets the purse to help fund the car and the driver gets a salary from the team. Or they might do the exact opposite, letting the driver keep the purse in lieu of a salary, which might give them the drive — pun intended — to race more aggressively for a better finish.

According to Autoweek, NASCAR and Race Team Alliance (RTA) wanted to form the charter system to create a model that produced long-term value for team ownership. In cases of bankruptcy, like BK Racing, teams had nothing of value except their race shops, where items were sold off for pennies on the dollar. This system is supposed to help change that.

Whether it's fair to the drivers or not is yet to be seen.

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Originally Published: Dec 5, 2008

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Associated Press. "NASCAR'S new charters create puzzling payouts for drivers." Feb. 17, 2016. (Feb. 8, 2022) https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nascar/2016/02/17/nascars-new-charters-create-puzzling-payouts-for-drivers/80524240/
  • Ferrey, Jonathan. Fox Sports. "Least to most: The prize money for every Sprint Cup race winner in '15." Oct. 20, 2016. (Feb. 8, 2022) https://www.foxsports.com/nascar/gallery/sprint-cup-series-prize-money-dale-earnhardt-jr-joey-logano-matt-kenseth-kevin-harvick-100315
  • Fucillo, David. Draft Kings Nation. "NASCAR purse 2021: Prize money available at Championship race in Phoenix." Oct 31, 2021. (Feb. 8, 2022) https://dknation.draftkings.com/2021/10/31/22755618/nascar-purse-2021-xfinity-500-prize-money-cup-series-martinsville-speedway-charter-system
  • LeMasters, Ron. "Post-race prize money: Who gets what." NASCAR.com. July 21, 2004. (Dec. 15, 2008) http://www.nasc­ar.com/2004/news/business/07/21/follow_money/
  • NASCAR.com. "2008 Official Driver Standings." (Dec. 17, 2008) http://www.nascar.com/races/cup/2008/36/data/standings_official.html
  • NASCAR.com. "How money is distributed." July 17, 2008. (Dec. 17, 2008) http://www.nascar.com/news/features/race.winnings/index.html
  • NASCAR.com. "How the NASCAR Charter system works." Sept. 22, 2020. (Feb. 8, 2022) https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2020/09/22/how-the-nascar-charter-system-works/
  • Peltz, Jim. "In NASCAR, a lower finish can lead to a bigger payday." The Los Angeles Times. April 17, 2008. (Dec. 15, 2008) http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/17/sports/sp-nascar17
  • Ryan, Nate. NBC Sports. "Rare peek into race purses, payouts under charter system." March 22, 2018 (Feb. 8, 2022) https://nascar.nbcsports.com/2018/03/22/rare-peek-into-race-purses-payouts-under-charter-system-through-bankruptcy-filing/
  • Sports Club Stats. "Subway Fresh Fit 500 Results." April 12, 2008. (Dec. 17, 2008) http://www.sportsclubstats.com/NASCAR/Races/SubwayFreshFit500.html
  • Sportscriber.com. "NASCAR Cup Series 2022 Prize Money." Jan. 22, 2022 (Feb. 8, 2022) https://sportscriber.com/nascar/nascar-cup-series-prize-money/
  • Sturniolo, Zach. Nascar.com. "Martinsville 101: Trends, history, purse info, odds and more." Oct. 29, 2021. (Feb. 8, 2022) https://www.nascar.com/news-media/2021/10/29/martinsville-101-trends-history-purse-info-odds-and-more/
  • The Inside Groove. "Ford 400 Results." (Dec. 18, 2008) ­ http://www.theinsidegroove.com/nascar_races/2008/results/results-race-36.php
  • Weaver, Matt. Autoweek. "How NASCAR's Ownership Charter System Works." Feb. 4, 2021 (Feb. 8, 2022) https://www.autoweek.com/racing/nascar/g35414086/nascars-ownership-charter-system-explained/

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