Second Place Bonus? Only In NASCAR Could This Happen!

Dale Earnhardt Jr two sign Pocono Raceway spr '14 bure

Anyone who looked at the winnings from the Pocono 400 probably did a puzzling double take!

Dale Earnhardt Jr, the winner of the race, earned $198,965. Brad Keselowski, who finished second, earned $213,783.

That is right, only in NASCAR could the second place finisher won more prize money than the race winner!

How can that happen, you ask?

Well, I have done some research to try to satisfy my own curiosity.  Here is "the readers' digest" version on that subject.

Years ago, in order to encourage race teams to enter every race, NASCAR created a "winner's circle" program.  Teams that win races can enter this program for a couple of years.  NASCAR compensates those teams with extra money in exchange for those winning drivers going to a race track to promote an upcoming race, a few weeks before that event occurs.

The caveat to this program is that only two drivers from any single organization will be eligible for this extra money.

For Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the two drivers who participate in this program.  Therefore, neither Kasey Kahne, nor Dale Earnhadt, Jr. are eligible to receive this benefit from NASCAR.

Depending on the driver’s contract, the winner’s circle bonus money might or might not be part of the money a team pays a driver when calculating a percentage of the winnings.

The winner’s circle program is not the only program that can cause confusion in winnings.

Manufacturers often offer bonus money for a top finisher among their ranks. Additionally, several sponsors offer contingency awards as long as the team has the decal of that sponsor on the car. However, some teams can’t run certain decals because of a conflict with team sponsors, and therefore, are not eligible for the award.

For instance at Pocono, Tony Stewart won the 3M lap leader award, even though he ranked well behind Keselowski in laps led at Pocono .  But because Penske Racing chooses not to run the 3M sticker to avoid conflict with its sponsors, the award money went to Stewart.  Kurt Busch was named the Mobil 1 driver of the race, despite finishing third.

Further, Keselowski won an engine-builder bonus (sponsored by Mahle Clevite) as a combination of qualifying second and finishing second. He also won a bonus for fastest average speed on restarts (sponsored by American Ethanol), and a bonus for leading at the time of first caution (sponsored by Duralast).

The above illustrations are just a few of the many bonuses that are awarded by the various corporate sponsors at each NASCAR race.

I hope that this insight will alleviate some confusion about the discrepancy in driver's winnings that are posted after each race.


Photo credit: Glenn Bure -

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