How NASCAR Prize Money Works

Prize Money Plans

The distribution of NASCAR prize money depends on more than just who wins the race.
The distribution of NASCAR prize money depends on more than just who wins the race.
Jaime Squire/­Getty Images for NASCAR

­It's important to win the race -- after all, that's what every driver on the track is desperately trying to do; however, NASCAR prize money is handed out in such a way that it's entirely possible for the last place finisher in a race to win more than say, the 7th place finisher. So what's the incentive to win? Well, in racing, the largest share still goes to the winner. To date, there's never been a case where the winner of a NASCAR race gets a smaller share than any of the other finishers. But this is where it gets tricky -- beyond first place, the prize money can get a little confusing.

Shares of the race purse are handed out not only based on where a driver finishes, but also on the specific products the team uses -- as in the case of the contingency money we talked about earlier in this article -- how well the team is doing this season, how well the team did last season, and what type of prize money "plan" the team participates in.

A prize money plan? Doesn't every team have the same plan -- to win as much prize money as possible? Well, of course they do. But NASCAR distributes the money to different teams in different ways. Teams who are in the Winner's Circle plan are the previous season's top 10 teams, plus two "wild card" positions. Teams in the Winner's Circle plan get NASCAR bonus money no matter how they finish in the race.

The remainder of the plans -- the Cup Series Car/Champion Owner Program, Plan 1 and Plan 1c -- each have their own system for payout. Basically, we can tell you that they're all based on the number of points a team has, how long they've been in the sport and how well they've done. NASCAR doesn't publicize exactly how each of these plans pays out prize money.

Why are the NASCAR winnings distributed in this rather confusing manner? They do it for several reasons. The most important reason is to make sure they have an exciting race every weekend throughout the entire season. That's why programs like NASCAR's Winner's Circle are important -- it insures the most talented and most popular drivers and teams will show up for nearly every race. The remaining payment plans are structured to help teams that are just starting out not only to get to the races, but also to reward them for doing well.

Up next, find out just how much money we're talking about.