Let's try something.
If you had the complete list of finishers of all of the PGA tournaments this season and you were asked to rank the top money earners for the year, you could probably figure it out pretty easily. All you would have to do would be to tabulate titles, top five finishes, top ten finishes, and number of cuts made; and you would almost certainly get the majority of them right. Ditto for the LPGA. And the same concept applies to other individual sports like tennis, skiing, and even horse racing.
But if you tried to accomplish the same task with NASCAR drivers, you most likely would fail miserably. Because unlike the other sports mentioned above, money earnings do not necessarily correspond to race finishes.
It's true that the share of the total race purse decreases as you move down the leaderboard at the end of the race. But there are other factors which play into the amount of money that a driver and/or team can earn during a day at the track. For instance, cash prizes are sometimes given for the driver who leads the most laps or makes the "most strategic move" during the race. In addition, there are pools of "contingency money," which go to high-performing cars who choose to display a certain sponsor's decal on their car. Finally, certain race teams earn money just for qualifying for races under "special racing plans" which are set based on teams' performance in previous years.
In other words, it can be really darn confusing.
Keeping this unusual payout scheme in mind, let's look at the top ten money earners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series thus far during the 2014 season - all of whom have surpassed the $4 million mark already. All figures are current as of August 17.
10 Denny Hamlin: #11, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,078,866
9 Kyle Busch: #18, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,266,114
8 Joey Logano: #22, Team Penske - $4,312,012
7 Matt Kenseth: #20, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,317,746
6 Kevin Harvick: #4, Stewart-Haas Racing - $4,392,993
5 Jamie McMurray: #1, Chip Ganassi Racing - $4,414,446
4 Jimmie Johnson: #48, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,652,352
3 Dale Earnhardt, Jr: #88, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,670,989
2 Jeff Gordon: #24, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,880,282
1 Brad Keselowski: #2, Team Penske - $5,025,968
As of August 17, the only $5 million man in NASCAR drives the #2 car on Sundays. Like Johnson, Earnhardt and Gordon, Keselowski has three victories in 2014, starting with his first-place finish at the Kobalt 400 in March. He didn't see his next checkered flag until late June when he won the Quaker State 400, and followed that performance up with a winner's circle appearance two weeks later at the Camping World RV Sales 301. Success appears to come in waves for Keselowski, who also won two Nationwide Series races on the same weekends as two of his Sprint Cup victories, while finishing second in the Saturday race before the Quaker State 400. Not surprisingly, Keselowski is on track to compile his richest racing season in his seven-year career.
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