NASCAR’s Ten Most Valuable Teams And Highest Paid Drivers
NASCAR is a big-money sport in which drivers make it and the teams need it. While there is a lot of money in the sport, not every driver is making the same amount and not every team is worth the same amount.
There are many different factors that contribute to what a NASCAR driver makes over the course of a season and to what a NASCAR team is worth.
One of the main factors for a driver is obviously their contract with the team in which they race for. If a driver is signed to a deal where they make a small amount of money, there aren’t too many other factors that are going to help in that department. Aside from the drivers contract, yearly earnings can be bumped higher depending on endorsement and sponsor deals, which races you win, making the NASCAR Chase and where you finish in the final NASCAR standings.
When it comes to the team the factors become a bit broader. The success of the entire team comes into play as well as sponsorship deals and contracts. However, other things come into play such as financial partners and things like HMS for example who builds engines for other teams which generates revenue.
Thanks to the folks over at Forbes.com, we now know which NASCAR drivers made bank during the 2016 season and which NASCAR teams came into 2016 valued the highest. Some drivers and teams on this list will not surprise you however a few of them might. Be sure to comment below and let us know whether or not your favorite driver/team made the list this time around.
Let’s get started with the drivers!
Honorable Mention – Kasey Kahne
- Salary and Winnings: $10.3 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $1.5 million
- Total Earnings: $11.8 million
Kasey Kahne just missed making into the top-10 for the 2016 season but making just under $12 million is no reason to feel bad for the driver of the No. 5 machine.
Kahne recently re-signed with Team Hendrick which came as a surprise to many. Before Jeff Gordon announced his retirement just over two years ago, many believed that Kahne would be the odd man out at HMS. Currently, that has proven not to be the case but job security has done little to improve Kahne’s performance on the track.
Last season Kahne’s named was linked to Kevin Harvick and SHR. There was a thought out there that Harvick might not want to join Ford in 2017 with SHR. The rumor went that Kahne would be booted for Harvick but that obviously never happened nor did it appear that was ever even going to be a possibility.
2017 needs to be a bounce-back kind of season for Kahne and the No. 5 team.
No. 10 – Matt Kenseth
- Salary and Winnings: $10.5 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $1.4 million
- Total Earnings: $11.9 million
Matt Kenseth made just a tick more than Kasey Kahne in 2015 despite winning a handful of races and at one point looking like a dark horse to win the championship.
Kenseth’s 2016 season was a solid effort that saw the JGR driver win and get into the top-eight in the 2016 Chase. While Kenseth did not advance to the final-four, his 2016 campaign was still a success for he and his team.
Fast forward to this season and it’s time for Kenseth to take the next step. It’s time for the No. 20 team to contend for the most wins during the regular season and put themselves into the final-four in the NASCAR Chase. It’s time to win that second title.
No. 9 – Carl Edwards
- Salary and Winnings: $10.6 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $1.5 million
- Total Earnings: $12.1 million
2015 was not the season that Carl Edwards was hoping for in the beginning but it sure ended on a high note.
Edwards struggled for the first few months of 2015 after leaving RFR to join JGR and drive the No. 19 machine. Those struggles eventually faded away and Edwards went on to win a pair of races and make the 2015 NASCAR Chase. Despite the early struggles, Edwards never wavered and the result in the end was worth it for him.
In 2016 Edwards made it to the final-four in the Chase and it looked like 2017 might be setting up to be his year. However, Edwards then shocked us all by retiring from NASCAR ahead of the 2017 season.
No. 8 – Tony Stewart
- Salary and Winnings: $9.8 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $3.0 million
- Total Earnings: $12.8 million
Tony Stewart had a forgettable season in 2015 but his bank account certainly did not feel that way.
2015 was another down season for the three-time NASCAR champion as he battled his car seemingly each and every weekend. Throughout the season fans and critics openly speculated whether or not the end of the rainbow was near for Stewart. Late in the season Stewart addressed that himself when he announced that 2016 would be his last season in NASCAR.
2016 was the last chapter and it was a good one with Stewart winning a race and returning to the Chase. While his final run in the Chase was shorter than we would have liked, it was nice seeing him there one last time.
No. 7 – Danica Patrick
- Salary and Winnings: $7.9 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $5.5 million
- Total Earnings: $13.4 million
In 2015 Patrick earned far less than the majority of the top drivers in the sport when it comes to salary and winnings. That being said, Patrick also was towards the top of the list in money for endorsements and licensing.
After a fast start in 2015 through nine races, Patrick seemed poised to take the next step in her NASCAR career. Heck, after nine races last season she was hanging around the Chase bubble. Unfortunately, the rest of the season did not go well for Patrick who faded as the season progressed.
2016 saw Patrick level out a bit and now 2017 brings with it questions given SHR’s switch to Ford. Is Patrick in a Ford what she needs to final take that next step?
No. 6 – Kyle Busch
- Salary and Winnings: $13.3 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $1.7 million
- Total Earnings: $15 million
One would think that winning the NASCAR championship in 2015 would push you right to the top of the winnings list but that’s not the case for Kyle Busch. Heck, getting back to the final-four in 2016 didn’t even push him into the top-five.
Busch set the NASCAR world on fire in 2015 after returning from his Daytona injuries and winning a title, and in 2016 he picked up where he left off.
In 2017 Busch will be looking to get back to the final-four in the Chase for the third year in a row and he will be looking to win his second championship.
JGR will again enter this season as NASCAR’s strongest team so it’s hard to imagine Busch not having another strong season.
No. 5 – Denny Hamlin
- Salary and Winnings: $13.1 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $2 million
- Total Earnings: $15.1 million
Denny Hamlin marks the fourth driver from JGR to make it inside of the top-10 and that’s saying something. Not only is JGR paying their drivers well, but they are all performing well to boot.
In 2015 Hamlin won a pair of races on his way to making the Chase. Had it not been for an ACL injury, Hamlin might have fared better in the Chase. Hamlin will be the first to tell you that the ACL injury had not baring on his performance (he did win with the injury after all) but it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t have some impact.
In 2016 Hamlin proved right out of the gate that he is feeling great. Hamlin won the 2016 Daytona 500 when he edged Martin Truex Jr. to the line. The margin of victory was the closest in Daytona 500 history and one of the closest in NASCAR history.
Hamlin fell short of the final-four in 2016 but that needs to be his goal for 2017 ahead of winning his first title as being the ultimate goal.
No. 4 – Kevin Harvick
- Salary and Winnings: $12 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $3.5 million
- Total Earnings: $15.5 million
Always a bridesmaid and never a bride was the motto for Kevin Harvick during the 2015 season. Harvick came home in 2nd-place a record number of times last season while only winning a couple of races along the way. While wins are great, second-place finishes pay pretty well also. The bridesmaid mantra continued in the Chase where Harvick finished second in Miami and as a result, second in the championship to Kyle Busch.
In 2016 Harvick has already skipped to bride status following his win in Phoenix. Harvick has now won in Phoenix on eight different occasions in his career. Harvick has also won six of the last nine races at the track and two of the three non-wins were second-place finishes.
While 2016 was a success for Harvick, it lacked some of the consistency that 2015 had. In 2017 Harvick will be in a Ford and it will be interesting to see if he can have the same success that he has had with SHR since joining them in 2014.
No. 3 – Jeff Gordon
- Salary and Winnings: $14.6 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $7 million
- Total Earnings: $21.6 million
The difference between Harvick and Gordon (4th and 3rd) is pretty substantial.
Gordon ran his last season in NASCAR in 2015 and he did so while making himself a lot of money. Gordon’s run through the Chase and into the final-four in Miami was something that captivated the NASCAR audience and Gordon Nation. The quest for a fifth championship was real but in the end Gordon fell just short.
Life after NASCAR hasn’t been too bad for Gordon who is now a part of the Fox broadcast team. Gordon’s transition into the booth has been seamless and he has brought with him energy and insight that the Fox telecast has been missing for some time. Even if you’re not a Gordon fan, I’m sure you have no issue with him telling DW how wrong he is on a regular basis.
Of course Gordon coming out of retirement in 2016 for eight races wasn’t all that bad either. Since Gordon won’t be racing in 2017 (or so we think) this will likely be the last time we see him on this list.
No. 2 – Jimmie Johnson
- Salary and Winnings: $16.4 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $5.8 million
- Total Earnings: $22.2 million
Another year of the new Chase format and another early exit for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, that was the story in 2015 and that was what Johnson destroyed in 2016.
Johnson won his seventh championship in 2016, this comes after he had struggled to find success in the new Chase format that was introduced in NASCAR in 2014. The championship ties him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and it puts him one title away from possibly being known as the greatest ever in the sport.
As Johnson’s career winds down the wins will still be nice but one would have to think he would give up wins to get an eighth championship.
No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Salary and Winnings: $15 million
- Endorsements and Licensing: $8.5 million
- Total Earnings: $23.5 million
Dale Earnhardt Jr. being on the top of this list should come as a surprise to nobody. Earnhardt Jr. is not only one of the highest-paid drivers in NASCAR but he is also the most marketable and popular driver in the sport.
Much like Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. has not found the new Chase format favorable. Over the last few seasons Earnhardt Jr. has rejuvenated his career via consistency. That consistency has led to better finishes and wins along the way. Those wins have put him into the Chase and into the title picture but ultimately he hasn’t been able to get over the hump and into the final-four.
In 2016 Earnhardt saw this season cut short die to concussion-like symptoms. In 2017 he will look to rebound and get back into the Chase.
Now it’s time to move onto the teams and see where they stacked up heading into the 2016 NASCAR season.
- Value: 24 million
- One-Year Change (%): N/A (new team)
- Revenue: 18 million
There isn’t a who lot to say here about BK Racing. The team is currently one of those operations in NASCAR that want to win and run well each weekend but they don’t come into the weekend with that as a goal or an expectation.
Smaller teams in NASCAR are always interesting because they seem to understand that the odds of them winning or being competitive for a win on a weekly basis are low. As a result they come into each weekend with a different set of goals and expectations than say JGR or HMS. Obviously these teams want to win and will do whatever it takes to win but they generally understand that’s not going to happen most weeks.
For BK Racing the hope is top-20 finishes, not wrecking cars and slowly building their operation.
Front Row Motorsports
- Value: 26 million
- One-Year Change (%): 18.2
- Revenue: 19 million
2016 saw Chris Buescher win a race and make the NASCAR Chase. That was pretty awesome for him and his team.
In 2017, Buescher will be looking to repeat all of that but it would seem unlikely to happen. The bottom line here is that Mother Nature played the biggest factor in his win and that’s just being honest.
Buescher will need similar luck to win in 2017 if he wants to make the Chase again. With his team not having the same quality of equipment as others, he will struggle to have the consistency needed to make the Chase without a win, so winning might be the only way back in.
Richard Petty Motorsports
- Value: 55 million
- One-Year Change (%): 12.2
- Revenue: 40 million
RPM comes in at No. 8 when it comes to the most valuable teams and that might surprise some causal NASCAR fans who know the Petty name but not the history of this team.
RPM might bear the name of one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport but there aren’t too many great things to talk about in regards to them right now. That’s not taking anything away from Aric Almirola who made the Chase in 2014 and Brian Scott who has had a couple of solid finishes in his rookie season. RPM just has the name and not the equipment to do some of the stuff that the other teams can do.
Let’s see what happens in 2017 when they are a one-car team again.
Chip Ganassi Racing
- Value: 75 million
- One-Year Change (%): 21
- Revenue: 46 million
This is a team that could be on the rise. They have a young and talented driver in Larson and they have a more experienced driver in McMurray who is still making strides in his career. With SHR leaving Chevy and going to Ford, Larson and McMurray could be the ones to step up and try to help fill the void when it comes to strong finishes. Then again, that would require winning races, something Larson has never done and something McMurray has not done in a while.
In 2016 the winless streak for this team came to an end when Larson won his first NASCAR Cup race. 2016 also saw both of these drivers make the Chase which means there is a lot of hope out there ahead of the 2017 season. There is little reason to think that Larson won’t win again in 2017, so the only real question is whether or not McMurray can step up his game.
- Value: 140 million
- One-Year Change (%): 6.1
- Revenue: 63 million
Some might be surprised to see Team Penske not in the top-five when it comes to teams. Despite only being a two-car team, Team Penske has been quite successful in NASCAR.
Brad Keselowski won a championship in 2012 and Joey Logano has been knocking on that door for a couple of seasons now. Before the rise of JGR, Team Penske was easily the most consistent team in NASCAR in regards to all of the teams drivers running well. Team Penske is still consistent but currently JGR is doing it with four drivers and that’s simply more impressive.
When it comes to Team Penske it’s also worth noting their success outside of NASCAR. While some might scoff at their NASCAR numbers, those people should be impressed given their success in NASCAR as well as their success in IndyCar. Team Penske is fairly dominant in two series and that is something that should not be overlooked.
Roush Fenway Racing
- Value: 155 million
- One-Year Change (%): 3.3
- Revenue: 103 million
Roush might be the biggest Ford team (before 2017) but they are certainly not the best as that honor goes to Team Penske. Coming into 2016 they were the best team in regards to value but that will shift over to SHR in 2017 when they jump from Chevy to Ford.
Roush used to be the standard in NASCAR for Team Ford but that time has come and gone. Greg Biffle is nearing the end of his career (and is now gone from the team) and thus far Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne have not been what the team was hoping that they were going to be. The good news for RFR is that they began turning the corner as a team towards the end of the 2016 season. Since that time the qualifying runs have improved and some of the finishes have improved each week.
The bad news is that Stenhouse and Bayne need a lot more consistency if they want to compete for wins and a spot in the Chase.
Richard Childress Racing
- Value: 175 million
- One-Year Change (%): 2.9
- Revenue: 144 million
RCR is successful and they do it in a quiet way.
In 2015 they put two of their three cars in the Chase and Austin Dillon didn’t miss the cut by all that much. In 2014 they almost won the championship when Ryan Newman was one spot away on the track from winning the title. In 2016 Austin Dillon has stepped up his game and RCR has a chance to possibly get all three of their cars into the Chase which would be huge for the team.
RCR takes the slow and steady approach in NASCAR and it seems to work for them. They are not out there contending for wins but they are still making the playoffs and being mentioned in the title picture (Newman in 2014). Their steady success on the track has turned into team success off of the track and has them ahead of teams like RFR and Team Penske.
2016 saw Dillon make the Chase for the first time and after re-signing Newman, there is hope that all three could make the Chase in 2017.
- Value: 195 million
- One-Year Change (%): 4.8
- Revenue: 115 million
It wasn’t all that long ago (2015 to be exact) that SHR was sitting a little bit higher on this list.
Despite falling a spot this year, SHR is still one of the première teams in NASCAR. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2017 when they switch from Chevy to Ford. While the exact numbers are not known, it’s believed that Ford basically wrote a blank check for SHR to jump ship and join them in 2017 and that will only help the company’s bottom line.
The move to Ford could make SHR the top dogs for that manufacturer. The move will also shift a lot of attention and storylines over to them in 2017 which means that they will need to keep their success on the track level. If SHR comes out in 2017 and has themselves a big season, don’t be surprised to see them move back up on this list.
Joe Gibbs Racing
- Value: 256 million
- One-Year Change (%): 27.4
- Revenue: 160 million
The reason that SHR slipped a spot was because JGR caught on fire.
From the middle of 2015 through now, JGR has easily been the best team in NASCAR. Not only are they the best team, but all of their drivers come to the track with a chance to win every weekend. No other team boasts four drivers in which they can say that about. It’s impressive that Team Penske does it with two, it’s more impressive that HMS did it with three but for JGR to do it with four? That’s incredible.
Helping the JGR stock even more is the fact that their driver (Kyle Busch) won the championship in 2015. Having your driver as the face of the sport after winning a title does wonders for a business. In 2017 JGR could easily repeat as champions even in Busch doesn’t win the title seeing as how good the other three drivers on their team are.
- Value: 375 million
- One-Year Change (%): 7.1
- Revenue: 186 million
It should not come as a huge surprise to see HMS in the top spot on this list. When it came to the drivers, Team Hendrick drivers made the most money so it would only make sense for the team to be the most valuable.
Aside from being a dominant team in NASCAR over the last 20+ years, HMS also supplies engines and other parts to other dominant teams in NASCAR. When Tony Stewart won his third title in 2011 and Kevin Harvick won his first in 2014, they did so with HMS equipment under the hood. If an actual Team Hendrick driver cannot win a race or a title, HMS equipment getting there is the next best thing.
Unfortunately, with the departure of SHR to Ford in 2017 HMS will lose their technical alliance with SHR. How does this impact the team overall? It is sure to have an impact but it shouldn’t do anything drastic like force them into the No. 2 spot on this list next season.
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