Bill France Sr. helped launch the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in 1947, and today NASCAR is America’s most watched racing league and a huge business. When it comes to television ratings, the only professional sports league that beats NASCAR is the NFL. While NASCAR drivers make zooming around the track at top speed look easy, in reality it’s anything but — race car driving take immense skill and concentration. It’s also very dangerous and every race can potentially be a driver’s last.
How do drivers get enticed to sit behind the wheel and put it all on the line? By tapping into their passion for racing and being presented with the chance to make a lot of money. The most successful NASCAR drivers have amassed large fortunes due to winning big cash prizes or having endorsement deals with major companies.
Here are the 20 richest NASCAR drivers in history:
20. Denny Hamlin – $30 million
James “Denny” Hamlin started out racing go-karts when he was seven and now he’s made a lucrative career out of race car driving behind the wheel of No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the MKA Manufacturers Cup in 1997 when he was 15, and in 2006 Hamlin was named “Rookie of the Year” at the Nextel Cup Series. He’s won a number of races, including the 2010 Southern 500, 2015 Sprint All-Star Race, and 2016 Daytona 500.
19. Michael Waltrip – $35 million
Today Michael Waltrip works as a commentator and has published books, but he’s also one of the most esteemed NASCAR drivers around. He won the Daytona 500 twice and occasionally still races from time to time in the No. 55 Toyota Camry. Greatness on the track runs in the family — Michael is the younger brother of Darrell Waltrip, a three-time NASCAR champ.
18. Jeff Burton – $45 million
Before retiring, Jeff Burton — also known as The Mayor — was able to rack up 21 Sprint Cup Series wins. He’s another driver with family history in the sport as his brother, Ward, and his nephew, Jeb, have also raced in the Sprint Cup Series. Jeff currently serves as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports.
17. Greg Biffle – $50 million
Driving Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 16 Ford Fusion is Greg Biffle, one of the richest NASCAR drivers in the game. He’s won many championships and awards, and he also earned the title of “Most Popular Driver” during the 2002 NASCAR Busch Series. Some of his wealth came from being behind the wheel, but Biffle is also part owner of Willamette Speedway and Sunset Speedway.
16. Kurt Busch – $50 million
Many know Kurt Busch as the older brother of NASCAR driver Kyle Bush, but he’s also won 27 Cup races during his career. In 2004, Kurt beat Jimmie Johnson to become the 2004 Cup Series champion. Though he’s definitely talented, Kurt Busch has gotten into some trouble on and off the track and he’s had a few notable public feuds with other NASCAR drivers.
15. Kyle Busch – $50 million
Kyle Busch has made a lot of his money from racing, and he’s been a huge winner on the track. However, he also owns Kyle Busch Motorsports, which has enjoyed many victories since it debuted in 2010. Aside from his NASCAR career, Kyle is known for being a generous donator to charities and and worthy causes.
14. Carl Edwards – $50 million
Carl Edwards drives Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota Camry. His first championship win was the 2007 Busch Series, and his most recent was the 2015 Bojangles’ Southern 500. Anytime Edwards wins a race fans expect him to do a backflip off his car, which is something he started doing at his first win by accident.
13. Kasey Kahne – $50 million
17-time Cup Series winner Kasey Kahne has had a huge stock car racing career. Over the last 15 years, he’s participated in 444 races and has placed in the top ten in 86 of those races. He began racing when he was 17 at Washington’s Deming Speedway.
12. Cale Yarborough – $50 million
Out of all NASCAR drivers, Cale Yarborough has had one of the longest involvements with the sport. While he was still racing he amassed 86 wins, making him one of those mots winningest NASCAR drivers of all time. The septuagenarian is not only a former race car driver and team owner, he’s also a farmer and an entrepreneur. Long-time fans of the sport won’t soon forget the fistfight he had on the track with Donnie Allison in 1979 — it’s still talked about to this day and is regarded as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Daytona 500.
11. Danica Patrick – $55 million
Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of professional racing, but most of her wealth didn’t come from her performance on the track. Instead, she’s earned tens of millions as a model, spokeswoman, and as the face of many leading brands.
10. Matt Kenseth – $60 million
During his career that’s spanned over two decades, Matt Kenseth has had an impressive number of victories. There have been a few controversies surrounding Kenseth during his career, most notably his 2003 Winston Cup Series victory. He was also the recipient of the toughest suspension in the history of NASCAR after deliberately causing a wreck with fellow racer Joey Logano. Still, he’s a very talented driver and one of the wealthiest. His son, Ross, is currently working on starting his own racing legacy as a driver — Ross has even raced against his did.
9. Richard Petty – $60 million
Few haven’t heard of Richard Petty — it doesn’t matter if you know much about NASCAR or not, The King is legendary and became a household name decades ago. He even has a museum dedicated to his illustrious career. During his time racing he won 200 races, including seven NASCAR Championships. As far as the figures go, Richard Petty is the most successful driver of all time. As great as he is, Richard Petty didn’t start his family’s racing legacy. His father, Lee, won the first Daytona 500 race and was a three-time NASCAR champion. Richard’s son, Kyle, went on to create a successful career in racing, and his late grandson, Adam, was the first fourth generation racer in NASCAR history.
8. Dale Earnhardt Sr. – $70 million
Dale Earnhardt Sr. is definitely one of the most famous NASCAR drivers of all-time. He won a huge list of accolades, championships, and awards during his career, and his style of driving lead to him being nicknamed The Intimidator. His seven Winston Cup championships tied him with Richard Petty for the most wins in the history of NASCAR. The world came to know Dale Earnhardt Sr. as a first-rate racer, and his passing during the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 is a moment that’s seared into the history of professional racing. Since then, he has been inducted into several halls of fame and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has continued the family’s racing legacy.
7. Kevin Harvick – $70 million
Kevin Harvick is a full time driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet SS in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, as well as a part time driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. He holds the all-time Cup Series win record and is the Xfinity Series’ third winningest driver. Kevin Harvick’s dream of becoming a race car driver goes back to when he was in fifth grade, and his father helped him enter the sport when he was a bit older. Racing legend Rick Mears was Kevin’s favorite driver when he was a kid, and Kevin has drawn inspiration from him during his career.
6. Mark Martin – $70 million
Mark Martin is a living legend and one of the most world’s most storied NASCAR drivers. He had a career that spanned over 30 years and included over 880 races. Few drivers have raced into their later years, but Mark Martin was on the track as recently as 2013. He hasn’t officially gone into retirement, but he is set to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017. Much of Mark Martin’s wealth came from being involved in NASCAR, but he’s also the owner of four car dealerships.
5. Tony Stewart – $70 million
The only person to win an IndyCar and NASCAR championship is Tony Stewart. He’s become known around the world for his incredible racing talent and major wins. In 600 races over his long career, Stewart has earned 49 victories. Tony Stewart made a significant part of his money from endorsement deals with various companies. He also has his own Sirius Satellite show, Tony Stewart Live, which he co-hosts with NASCAR reporter Matt Yocum.
4. Ken Schrader – $75 million
Ken Schrader has a long racing career — he’s not only a NASCAR vet, but he’s also a current part-time ARCA Series racer and he races at Eldora Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series. Considering Ken Schrader’s age, 61, it’s quite a feat to still be going strong after so many decades in the sport.
Ken Schrader’s NASCAR career lasted from the early 1980s to 2013, and in that time he’s enjoyed immense success. In addition to his racing wins and accolades from fans and other NASCAR drivers, Schrader is an astute businessman. He owns Missouri’s I-55 Raceway, and is also part owner of Macon Speedway along with Tony Stewart, promoter Bob Sargent, and race car driver Kenny Wallace.
3. Jimmie Johnson – $120 million
Jimmie Johnson is one of the richest NASCAR drivers of all time, and he’s one of the most well-recognized race car drivers in the world. Success may seem to come naturally for Jimmie Johnson, but it didn’t come easy. His love for racing began when he was just 4 years old, and he started entering off-road series after graduating from high school. In the years since he has recorded a huge number of achievements, wins, and awards. Jimmie Johnson has also been apart of many of the most memorable moments in NASCAR’s history, and the star driver isn’t exactly a stranger to controversy.
Johnson has made enough cameos in television shows, movies, music videos, and video games that he’s something of a pop culture figure. Few players have been as marketable as Jimmie Johnson is, which is part of why he’s worth $120 million. Outside of his endorsements, business ventures, and awesome racing career, Jimmie Johnson is a charitable athlete who donates millions annually and often participates in charity events. He has his own successful nonprofit, The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, and he’s also partnered with other recognized groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the American Red Cross.
2. Jeff Gordon – $150 million
Jeff Gordon now works as a Fox NASCAR announcer, but most people know him as the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet from when he was still racing. The first taste of racing that Jeff Gordon got was when his stepdad bought him a BMX bike when he was four — after that, nothing could stop him from pursing his passion. He went after it with zeal and the rest truly is racing history. Jeff Gordon is one of the most esteemed NASCAR drivers and he’s cemented his place in pop culture as well. Many in the US who know little to nothing about race car driving still know the name “Jeff Gordon” — he not only helped make the sport more popular in the US, Gordon has been portrayed in everything from magazines and documentaries to cartoons and game shows. When it comes to business he plays it very smart, which has allowed Jeff Gordon to amass a fortune worth $150 million.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – $300 million
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is racing royalty, and his father’s legacy helped him climb the heights that he’s reached today. That’s not to say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t put in his share of work to achieve his successes — far from it. In fact, he’s more than proven himself on the track and has truly done justice to the Earnhardt name. Dale Jr. has been voted NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” a consecutive 13 times from 2003 to 2015.
Perhaps the most devastating moment in his time spent racing — the 2001 Daytona 500 crash that killed his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. — shaped Dale Jr.’s career more than anything else. He emerged that day with grace and incredible composure and made a name for himself in the best way. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most recognized celebrity athletes in the world, and he also has a knack for doing business. Some of Dale Jr.’s ventures include owning racetracks, a media production company, auto dealerships, and a bar named Whisky River that has multiple locations. All of this, plus his money earned from racing, puts Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the top of the list of wealthy NASCAR drivers.