Forbes Names Dale Earnhardt Jr. the Highest-Paid Driver in NASCAR

Christopher OlmsteadSenior Analyst IIIMarch 14, 2013


Every year, Forbes releases a list that ranks the highest-paid drivers in NASCAR. If you're an avid follower of this annual event, you know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has topped this list for the past four years.

Well, if you like, you can now call Earnhardt a five-timer, because he once again sits atop this year's ranking.

Here is the list of the highest-paid drivers in NASCAR according to Forbes. The listed amounts are their income from the 2012 season.

  1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.—$25.9 million
  2. Jimmie Johnson—$23 million
  3. Tony Stewart—$18.7 million
  4. Jeff Gordon—$18.1 million
  5. Carl Edwards—$13.7 million
  6. Kevin Harvick—$13 million
  7. Danica Patrick—$12.9 million
  8. Kyle Busch—$12.5 million
  9. Kasey Kahne—$12 million
  10. Brad Keselowski—$11.4 million

Yes, you read that correctly. Earnhardt made more than double what the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Keselowski made last season.

In the world of sports, athletes are generally paid based on performance and talent. That is clearly not the case here with Earnhardt. Over the span of the last five years, he has made more money than any other driver while winning only two races.

In fact, Earnhardt has spent the majority of the last five years marred in a 143-race losing streak.

Sometimes numbers lie. In this case, the numbers are somewhat deceiving. Although Earnhardt earned $25.9 million in 2012, just under half of that was actual salary and race winnings. In 2012, he brought in $13 million in licensing and endorsements. This means that he only made $12.9 million in salary and earnings.

If you were to look solely at salary and earnings, Earnhardt would rank second only to Johnson. In 2012, Johnson made $16.3 million in salary and earnings. So I guess you could say that winning five consecutive championships has its advantages.

However, as a five-time champion Johnson only made $6.7 million in licensing and endorsements last season. He made just over half of what Earnhardt did, and Johnson could be considered the most successful driver of the last 20 years.

It's absolutely crazy to think that the face of a sport, the man with the highest-paid endorsement deals and one of the highest-paid salaries has accomplished almost nothing. Could you imagine the Yankees or Red Sox giving a $200 million contract to a career .200 hitter? How about the Heat or Lakers giving a $100 million contract to a guy averaging seven points a game?

The thought of such a thing seems ludicrous.

Yet, the highest-paid driver in NASCAR is currently averaging one win per four seasons over the last eight years.

Just let that sink in for a few moments.