Drivers awarded with millions

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

ATLANTA -- Bill Elliott was the first driver in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history to win more than $1 million in a single season. But his $2.4 million effort in 1985 now seems like chump change.

Forty-three drivers surpassed the $1 million mark this year, including a handful that participated as part-timers.

Tony Stewart, the champion, won $4,695,154 in race purses and another $4,305,607 in postseason awards to push his annual take up to $9,163,761. In just four short seasons, Stew art now has won nearly $21 million.

The sport is swimming in money, although less than half of it trickles down to the race teams and drivers. And al though Stewart made more money in the past 10 months than all the drivers from the 1983 season combined, it pales in comparison to the people who've never driven a single lap.

Half of the $2.6 billion television package goes is divided among the speedways and another chunk goes to NASCAR. Basically, the television money pays the race purse, leaving each paid ticket, beer and hot dog as profit.

Jeff Gordon stretched his motorsports record for earnings to $51.9 million by finishing fourth in the points standings. His winnings in 2001 admittedly a down year for the four-time champion was only $6,154,475.

Bill and Jim France, the brothers on top of the NASCAR hierarchy, have personal fortunes measured in billions, according to Forbes magazine. Not only do they fill their pockets with NASCAR money, they own most of the racetracks on the circuit.

THE JOB SEARCH: Chip Gan assi's eye for talent can't be denied, but his decision to hire Casey Mears as the driver for the No. 41 Target Dodge was curious.

The man who's won four CART Series championships and had the foresight to put Jamie McMurray behind the wheel is gambling on Mears' bloodlines to turn his high-profile team around.

Mears, the nephew of open-wheel legend Rick Mears, had two top-10 finishes on the NASCAR Busch Series last year.

Bobby Hamilton had been considered the leading candidate for Jimmy Spencer's old job, but Target apparently wanted a younger representative to push its products.

Jimmy Elledge, who worked for Dale Jarrett and Hamilton last year, was hired a week earlier as the crew chief.

PIT STOPS: Brian Vickers graduated from high school in May. This week, he was hired as the driver to replace Ricky Hendrick on the NASCAR Busch Series. Young Hendrick, son of Winston Cup car owner Rick Hendrick, will serve as the car owner on the junior circuit. Vickers had one top-10 finish in 21 Busch Series starts last year. ... Sterling Marlin, whose championship hopes were dashed by a broken neck suffered in a crash at Kansas City in September, has been cleared to drive. In fact, he participated in a test session with Dodge and Ford this week at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. ... Deborah Renshaw, who is recovering from an October ARCA Series crash at Concord, N.C., that killed another driver, was dropped by her race team. Car owner Rick Goodwin planned for Renshaw to make a handful of Busch Series starts in 2002 to be eligible for the rookie of the year award next year, but her injuries kept her off the track in the final two months. Ren shaw slammed full speed into the side of a disabled car driven by Eric Martin more than 10 seconds after he hit the wall and slid down the track.

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