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The Science of Fast

How Much Difference Does One Position Make in NASCAR Winnings?

Given all the rain at Daytona this weekend, there was plenty of time to think about auxiliary NASCAR issues.  Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of the racing-reference.info website because they have a trove of data just waiting to be analyzed.  The spouse asked about payouts and whether it really made much of a difference for a team to get back on the track, so I plotted up some data.

I’m showing below for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, the winnings as a function of position. The line is not monotonic (decreasing with each point) because of all the contingency plans, sponsor deals, etc, but the data work pretty well in terms of overall trends. I’ve plotted both races in 2014 – July (red) and February (green).

BSPEED_DaytonaWinningsNWide

Two things surprised me here:  first,  how quickly the prize money goes down and second, how small the money is in the first place, especially relative to the Sprint Cup.  You’re talking about $20,000 for finishing in the upper 30s in the July race and $40,000 in the February race. If you consider how expensive it is to just build a racecar, much less hire a driver and people for the track, that’s not a whole lot of money.

If you look at the drop off, it’s huge for the first five places. From 1st to 2nd in February, we’re talking a drop of almost $30,000. When you get out to 21st compared to 22nd, it’s less than a thousand dollars.

I thought the difference in prize money between February and July was interesting as well.  It’s even more pronounced in the Sprint Cup, as shown below.BSPEED_DaytonaWinningsThe first thing to notice is the huge difference in purse from the 500 to the 400.  The money for first place is four times as much for winning in February versus July. From first to second for the Daytona 500, you’re talking $357,000, but for the July race, it’s “only” $134,000.  If you come in dead last in February, you take home $292k, whereas last weekend, poor A.J. Allmendinger went home with a little under $70k for finishing 43rd.

That outlier at position 32 for the 500 is Paul Menard. I double checked the data at my other favorite source of racing information, jayski.com, and they have the same information. (UPDATE: as @nuggie99 points out in the comments, there was that $200,000 bonus for leading at halfway.) I have no explanation for why he’d make $200,000 more than the guys who finished immediately in front of and behind him.

For both series, though, you can see why it makes sense for teams that aren’t running all the races, or teams with limited resources, to disproportionately focus attention on the restrictor plate races. With the wild card nature of the races, getting a top five can make a huge difference in the money you take home – and thus your ability to build a more competitive team.

 

 

5 thoughts on “How Much Difference Does One Position Make in NASCAR Winnings?

  1. Of course, a team should also factor in the probability of the car getting smashed. If a (back marker) car runs $250,000, and there is, for the sake of discussion, a 10% chance of having to write off the car and a 30% chance of incurring $50,000 worth of damage, then if my math is right (?), that’s a $40,000 capital cost that should be factored in, along with the consumables and crew and so on (another $25,000?). Thus, a team would have to win $65,000 to break even – just about last place money.

    1. Thanks for the comment Steve. It’s a good thing to keep in mind, especially when people are talking about start-and-parks. A lot of fans seem to think the purse goes right in the owner’s pocket as profit and have no idea how expensive it is to get the car to the track in the first place.

  2. Two things Diandra. If you aren’t aware, there is a fascinating site “racingnomics.com” All sorts of stats and reports. Secondly, do teams work to repair a badly wrecked car when it likely won’t be a financial benefit but give them experience when it might?

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