FEBRUARY 11, 2009

NASCAR men earning as well as most F1 drivers

Formula 1 drivers do not like to talk about their salaries - as FIA President Max Mosley discovered recently when he asked them to prove that they were suffering hardships because of his demand for higher licence fees. It is generally accepted that the highest paid driver is Kimi Raikkonen, who did a deal for 40m Euros a year with Ferrari. The strength of the Euro means that this is now worth around $53m a year, which is a very large sum of money. Others who are believed to have good salaries are Fernando Alonso ($30m), Lewis Hamilton ($25m), Jenson Button ($20m), Nick Heidfeld ($15m), Felipe Massa ($15m) and then several others who earn in the region of $10m a year. Some of the drivers have been earning more because they exploit their own merchandising and do personal sponsorship deals in addition to what comes from the teams.

The earning model in NASCAR is rather different where the salaries are lower but augmented by prize money which is made public, and by intensive merchandising. According to Forbes magazine's latest issue the highest paid NASCAR star in overall terms is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has won few races in recent years but having dual paint schemes on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet means that he is making much more money from merchandising than he was as his fans are buying the same things twice. He is reckoned to have earned $35m in 2008, despite finishing only 15th in the points.

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon did not win a race in 2008, although that was the first time that had happened since 1993. He is NASCAR's highest money winner of all time and earns $10m from his endorsements with companies like PepsiCo, Time Warner Cable and Electronic Arts. His overall earnings are reckoned to be $30m.

Making the top three money-earners all Hendrick Motorsport drivers is Jimmie Johnson, champion for the last three seasons, who is reckoned to make $23m a year, with $15m in salary and prize money and the rest in merchandising.

Tony Stewart, now a team owner himself, is estimated to have taken home $19m last year thanks in part to his fiery temperament, which makes him a crowd favourite. Rising star Kasey Kahne and veteran Kevin Harvick are both believed to be making $14m, the latter thanks to $8.5m in prizemoney.

Kyle Busch won more races in NASCAR's top three series last year than any other driver, with 21 victories, which translated into earnings of $13m, while Roush Racing's Matt Kenseth was one of only a handful of drivers with a salary over $7m, but he makes $12m overall thanks to his endorsements and prize money.

The top 10 is completed by former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya and rising star Denny Hamlin, who are both reckoned to make $11m a year. Montoya has one of the highest salaries in NASCAR but has used the F1 model and signed over most of his merchandising rights to his team.