Should Jimmie Johnson, Or Any Driver, Be Paid More For Poor Results?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IJuly 9, 2010

It would be easy to assemble a list of additions or modifications to NASCAR’s plethora of changes speculated for next year.

When Brian France addressed the media last Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he made it pretty clear that change was in the air.

One change rarely discussed is how the prize money is distributed.

NASCAR’s point system awards are pretty clear. The higher you finish in the race, the more points you get.

Prize money awards are not as clear. Finishing 31st, as Jimmie Johnson did in Saturday nights Coke Zero 400, doesn’t mean you get less pay than 30th. Actually, it doesn’t even mean you get less pay than a top five finisher.

There have been rare occasions where the winner of the race has gotten less prize money than the second, third, or fourth place finisher. Those instances are rare, but they do happen.

Aside from prize money, drivers can also secure, usually from sponsors, something called contingency awards.

These awards are usually in the form of money and are given out for various reasons.

The highest finishing Chevrolet driver in a race could pocket an extra thousand dollars. If you’re the driver who led the most laps and have a participating decal on your fender, look for a cool grand under your pillow tonight.

Contingency awards vary from race to race and by sponsor participation. They also vary from driver to driver and are not always available to every driver.

In Saturday night's Coke Zero 400, Jimmie Johnson was awarded $139,578 for running 147 laps and finishing 31st. In contrast, team mate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran all 166 laps and finished 4th, but made only $4,522 more than Johnson.

Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, and Kurt Busch all finished behind Dale Earnhardt, Jr. but earned more prize money. Once again, in contrast, Jimmie Johnson earned more prize money than everyone who finished above him all the way to ninth place, except Matt Kenseth.

NASCAR has gone to great lengths in recent years to bring down the cost of racing. Elimination of testing and the single engine rule are just a couple of examples of NASCAR mandates geared specifically towards saving teams money.

There are more ways to help, especially the growing number of under-funded teams.

While NASCAR does not typically get involved with team sponsorships, they do require approval of all sponsors involved with the sport. NASCAR also collects and then distributes all prize monies. Contingency awards are part of distributed prize money.

If NASCAR were to adopt the same sliding scale for all prize money, as they do with points, there would be a more fair and equitable distribution of money across the board. Teams would be paid more fairly for on track results.

Paying a race team for actual results encourages teams to strive for better results. This could be the single best idea to curb, or even eliminate the start and park epidemic.

If a typical under-funded team qualifies for the race, and, under the current system, knows they will get the same prize money for finishing 20th as they will for finishing 33rd, then why spend more money, money they don’t have, to improve their finishing position?

In Johnson’s case, he could have stopped racing after 104 laps and gotten the same amount of prize money.

On the other side of that scenario, ninth place-finishing Mike Bliss had to run all 166 laps to get $20,000 less than Johnson.

For years, NASCAR has been a sport where the rich keep getting richer. Start up and single car teams are going the way of the dinosaur.

Point’s money and championship funds reward a team or teams, on a sliding scale, for overall performance through out the year. Event prize money should reward a team on a sliding scale for performance and results for that specific event.

Minor changes to how the prize money is distributed would make it more lucrative for teams and sponsors to come into the sport, especially if they knew they were getting higher pay for increased results, or a higher finishing order guaranteed them a higher pay day than those who finished below them.

Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell