Kyle "Rowdy" Busch hopes to add another first to his NASCAR résumé at the Daytona 500 on Sunday when he makes his latest bid to win "The Great American Race" for the first time after 14 misses. Last year, the two-time Cup Series champion-with 208 career victories under his belt across all NASCAR series-led with only two laps to go before being edged out by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
If he comes up short, the racing vet can take solace in having accomplished a different first: The 34-year-old is the highest-paid NASCAR driver for the first time, earning $17.8 million last year from his salary and endorsements, as well as his share of winnings and licensing.
NASCAR salaries have fallen dramatically as the sport has struggled with sponsorship problems. Few drivers get salaries north of $3 million anymore, although teams are still willing to pay up for elite talent. Busch, who edged out Jimmie Johnson for the top spot, was asked at Wednesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day who the best driver on the track is today and replied: "You’re looking at him."
Johnson (No. 2, $17.6 million), who has a record-tying seven Cup titles and is set to retire after the 2020 season, and Busch are the only two drivers with salaries greater than $10 million, according to NASCAR insiders, with Busch’s 2019 Cup title helping boost revenue from merchandise. Only Chase Elliott sold more licensed goods last year.
The ten highest-paid NASCAR drivers earned an estimated $120 million in 2019, a tick above 2018 but well below a decade ago when they banked a combined $180 million.