Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Robin Miller To The Rescue!

There’s been a lot of NASCAR bashing in the air lately, after a contentious week of tech-line violations at Daytona International Speedway, and a controversial (to some) green-flag finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Midway through a Tuesday afternoon filled with black-helicopter conspiracies and allegations of race officials on the take, it occurred to me that in today’s unfortunate “Scandal of the Day” society, NASCAR doesn’t get much credit for the many things it does right.

I vowed to do a little research, comparing NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series to the other major motorsports series in this country, to see just how incompetent the Boys in Daytona Beach really are. Amazingly, before I had unearthed a single factoid, Robin Miller did the job for me.

Miller, a regular contributor to and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain, has assembled a series of statistics that say everything I had hoped to say, and more. For the record, Miller is no NASCAR apologist. In fact, he makes his living covering Open Wheel racing, a form of motorsport that he loves above all others. He has been a frequent critic of NASCAR in the past, and almost certainly will be again in the near future. But this time around, he hits it right between the eyes.

Among his more interesting points of comparison, Miller points out that the 2007 Daytona 500 paid more prize money than the entire Champ Car World Series, Indy Pro Series, Champ Car Atlantic, USAC, American Lemans and Grand American Rolex seasons combined. Again, for emphasis, NASCAR paid out more money in one day than six of North America’s top racing series will pay, all season long.

Pretty incredible. But it doesn’t end there.

Miller points out that Jimmie Johnson earned $15,770,125 en route to the 2006 Nextel Cup championship. IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. collected $3,835,205 for his title, while Champ Car king Sebastien Bourdais grossed just under $1.3 million for his third-consecutive title, a figure that includes a $500,000 champion’s bonus. Kenny Wallace made more than Bourdais, for finishing 43rd in the Nextel Cup standings. Granted, Ole’ Herm ran 36 races to make that money, compared to just 14 starts for Hornish and Bourdais. But even if you triple the payday for IRL and Champ Car’s top drivers, they still fall well short of what an average Nextel Cup driver can expect to pull down.

In 13 seasons of Champ Car excellence, Paul Tracy has racked up $12.3 million in earnings; roughly one-fifth of the $60 million Jeff Gordon accrued in the same, 13-year span. Again, there’s no comparison.

In total, NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series paid over $219 million in purse money last season. The Indy Racing League paid $24 million; $10 million of which came from a single race, the Indy 500. Champ Car paid a paltry $6.5 million in purse money for its 14 events, and just $1.5 million in point fund money.

There’s more, if you’re still not convinced.

Miller points out that the Grand American Rolex Series “Rolex 24 at Daytona” pays just $100,000 to win. The rest of the races pay a measly $25,000 to the winner. Second place in the "Rolex 24" is worth $35,000, and fifth pays a laughable $10,000. Chip Ganassi Racing won the GARS Daytona Prototype championship last year, and made just $150,000 in purse money; less than half of what Tony Stewart made for finishing dead-last in Sunday's Daytona 500. Grand Am drivers champion Jorg Bergmeister received a Rolex watch and a discount pass to Daytona USA.

On the rival American Le Mans Series, the "Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring" pays $24,000 to win, and under ALMS rules, full factory teams are not eligible for prize money. Inn short, most teams are racing for free.

In USAC, where a competitive midget engine can cost as much as $45,000, the winner receives approximately $1,500 at the end of the night.

On the corporate front, Nextel, FOX, NBC, ABC, TNT, SPEED and ESPN spend hundreds of millions of dollars to be involved with NASCAR Nextel Cup racing. Neither the Indy Racing League nor Champ Car have title sponsorship, and both series are on national television only because they buy the time.

No matter what the incessant army of naysayers and nitpickers would have you believe, it’s clear that in addition to their regular schedule of screwing Mark Martin and ensuring Rick Hendrick gets a free pass in the tech line, Brian France and the boys from Daytona Beach have found a bit of spare time to make their series’ something special.

Is NASCAR Nextel Cup racing perfect? Heck no. Nobody would argue that. But it’s head and shoulders above the rest of the motorsports pack, and it’s a far cry from the ineptitude and corruption we hear alleged elsewhere. That’s something we need to remind ourselves of from time to time.

Thanks, Robin, for doing exactly that.

You can read Robin's full commentary by clicking HERE.


  1. I'm not an open wheel fan, but I'd certainly love for them to be competitive again. Why hasn't Bourdais jumped to IRL after three championships. Obviously the money is there.

  2. Anonymous6:10 PM

    I recall at one point last year reading that Paul Tracy was blown away that NASCAR rookie Denny Hamlin could afford to buy a plane when he couldn't after all his years in CART/Champ Car.

  3. Anonymous6:22 AM

    This is why open wheel guys make the jump to NASCAR. Not to see if they "stack up", not to try something different. Follow the money. Thanks for posting David. Well said Robin.

  4. Anonymous8:18 AM

    Great article and insight! However, are you only considering the 'earnings' from the purse? How do the salaries of NASCAR stack up with the other series?


  5. Anonymous8:26 AM

    All that money and prestige and, yet, NASCAR still can't/won't print a solid rulebook with solid penalties for breaking those rules.

    Until that happens, you're always going to have fans questioning decisions by the sanctioning body.

  6. Anonymous9:12 AM


    So I guess if use the money tree to figure out who is running the best ship, F1 is head and shoulders above even NASCAR? Because Bernie E. & his drivers are making much more $$$$ than their NASCAR counterparts on the other side of the pond. If JPM had an option to drive for one of the big 3 in F1, he would still be there.

    Success is all relative I suppose, but a ton of short track racers & fans have been alienated by NASCAR - that is a fact. Once you drive those people off, it is very hard to get them back.

    CART at onetime was a very profitable venture, but tomorrow is promised to no one, and those empty seats and flat TV ratings could be a harbinger of things to come if NASCAR loses sight of what it's mission is.

    And it doesn't help public perception when the head of the company is driving around drunk either.