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.
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10 Denny Hamlin: #11, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,078,866
Hamlin is an excellent example of how monetary winnings and race standings are not necessarily correlated. Even though Hamlin is tenth on this list, he barely cracks the top 20 racers in the Sprint Cup standings. The ten-year Sprint Cup veteran has only amassed 589 points, which is a whopping 227 behind the current leader. But it helps that a full 28% of his 2014 winnings came from taking the runner-up spot in the Daytona 500 despite leading the race for 16 laps. Hamlin also netted over $300,000 on two occasions this year: first at the Aaron's 499 in May in which he recorded his last victory, and then again with this third-place finish in the John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard.
9 Kyle Busch: #18, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,266,114
Again, Kyle Busch is only 15th in the points race but has earned more cash than all but eight other drivers. Also, Busch's #18 car has completed the fewest laps in 2014 of anyone on this list, putting him at the bottom of the top 50% of racers in that category. He has also failed to complete three races this season. Busch's lone 2014 victory in a Sprint Cup Series race came way back in late March at the Auto Club 400, which earned him $324,531 - or about $42,000 less than his 19th place finish at Daytona. His only other payout above 300K this year was at The Brickyard, when he took second place a spot ahead of Hamlin.
8 Joey Logano: #22, Team Penske - $4,312,012
In contrast to Hamlin and Busch, Logano sits in fourth place in the 2014 Sprint Cup standings 102 points off the lead, but is only eighth when measuring bank accounts. Logano has failed to finish four races this year, but he does have a pair of April victories to his credit. He captured the checkered flag in the Duck Commander 500 to earn $567, 281; then followed it up three weeks later with a win at the Toyota Owners 400, which put another $274,081 in his kitty. Logano's 11th place finish at Daytona was good for $376,354. He's coming off a third-place finish last week at the Pure Michigan 400 (worth $164,326).
7 Matt Kenseth: #20, Joe Gibbs Racing - $4,317,746
That's right - Joe Gibbs Racing has three of the first four racers on this list. Even though he has yet to record a Sprint Cup victory in 2014, Kenseth is one of the more consistent racers this year. After all, he has finished in the top five in four out of his last seven Sprint Cup races as well - but those top-fives don't all correspond with his payouts of 100 grand-plus. For instance, Kenseth finished in 38th place in both last weekend's Pure Michigan 400 and at the GoBowling.com 400 two weeks prior; but that was still good enough for paychecks of $124,941 and $117,166, respectively. He did finish in sixth place at Daytona, which netted him $517,112 for a day's work.
6 Kevin Harvick: #4, Stewart-Haas Racing - $4,392,993
Harvick is the only driver on this list whose earnings ranking and his point standings ranking are the same. But Harvick has won at least $110,000 in every single Sprint Cup Series race since Daytona. He won both the Bojangles' Southern 500 in April and The Profit on CNBC 500 in March, and half of his twelve top-ten finishes have come since mid-June. Like most of the other drivers on this list, Harvick's largest check came when he earned $368,196 at Daytona for finishing in 13th place. The #4 car is the only top-ten earner on the Stewart-Haas racing team this season.
5 Jamie McMurray: #1, Chip Ganassi Racing - $4,414,446
McMurray cracks the top five on the richest driver list in 2014 despite sitting way down in 19th place in the Sprint Cup Standings 220 points out of the top spot. But again, consistency has been the key for the top earner in the Chip Ganassi garage. Despite leading a total of only 68 laps this season, McMurray has managed to earn between $100,000 and $200,000 in every Sprint Cup race since Daytona - with three exceptions. His 42nd place finish in the STP 500 in late March put less than 95K in his pocket. But he earned $361,777 for finishing a spot behind Harvick at Daytona. And even though it didn't earn him any points, McMurray's victory in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 17 netted him a walloping $1,035,734 - or 23.5% of his 2014 earnings.
4 Jimmie Johnson: #48, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,652,352
Johnson has led for more laps than anyone other driver on the Sprint Cup circuit this year, crossing the white line in first place 1,035 times. Three of those instances were when the checkered flag was out - and they all came within a span of four races. Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600 in late May which was worth $465,626, the following weekend's FedEx 400 for another $336,826, and the Quicken Loans 400 on June 15 for $205,661. In addition to that million-dollar stretch, Johnson also crossed the finish line at the Daytona 500 in fifth place, which deposited another $589,399 in his coffers.
3 Dale Earnhardt, Jr: #88, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,670,989
Earnhardt gains third place on this list by edging out Johnson by less than $19,000, but fully 32% of his total came from the first of his three victories in 2014. That's when Earnhardt grabbed the top single-race payday on this list at $1,506,363 by winning - you guessed it - the Daytona 500. But he also finished first in the Pocono 400 on June 8 and the GoBowling.com 400 earlier this month. The reason Earnhardt is so high on this list is because he has finished in the top five more than any other Sprint Cup driver: 11 times in 23 races. Currently, Earnhardt is a mere three points out of the #1 spot in the Spring Cup standings, just behind…
2 Jeff Gordon: #24, Hendrick Motorsports - $4,880,282
Gordon rounds out the trio of Hendrick cars on the money list so far this season, and he moved into first place in the Sprint Cup standings with his victory last weekend at the Pure Michigan 400 after earning the pole position. Gordon also won the John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard three weeks before, as well as May's 5-Hour Energy 400. In fact, Gordon has never failed to earn less than $128,000 in any points race in 2014. Gordon, who has been racing since 1992, is tied with Earnhardt for the most top-ten finishes in 2014 with 16. His fourth-place finish at Daytona earned him an impressive $736,674.
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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