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Fresh off the excitement and madness of the Daytona 500 (Congratulations, Austin!) comes a new type of madness: the tallying of NASCAR’s highest paid drivers. Forbes Magazine has just released the 2018 version of the list, which basically totals monies earned in 2017.

Before we get to actually crunching the numbers, let’s just get one thing clear: NASCAR stars may be a group of unassuming down-to-earth guys, but they’re balling harder than some flashy football, baseball or basketball stars.

Seriously, brace yourselves: we’re talking serious money.

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According to Forbes, the 12 top-earning drivers in the sport made a collective $155 million by last year’s count. We’ll give you a second to let that sink in.

But, let’s take a close look and count down the top five earners and compare notes.

Kevin Harvick takes the No. 5 spot with $11.6 million in salary/earnings and $13.8 million in total earnings in 2017.

At No. 4, Denny Hamlin, driver of the FedEx Monster Energy car, finished 2017 with $12.9 million in salary/winnings and $14.6 million in earnings. Not too shabby at all!

Kyle Busch comes in at No. 3 with $13.1 million in salary/winnings and $14.7 million in total earnings.

Jimmie Johnson ranked second with $14.2 million in salary/winnings and $19.2 in total earnings. Last year, Jimmie claimed the No. 1 spot from our next guy, only to fall back this year.

So who could possibly top those numbers? There’s only one man who could do that job.

Coming in at the top of the list: Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired on a very high note of $14 million in salary/winnings and $22 million in total earnings in his final season of NASCAR. Junior was NASCAR’s top earner for seven straight years until 2016, when he was sidelined due to a concussion. That’s when Jimmie won the championship and knocked him out of the top slot.

The only female on the list is truly the only female in NASCAR: Danica Patrick. She ranked No. 8 last year with $5.8 million in salary/winnings and $10.3 million in total earnings. OK, we need to see more ladies in NASCAR in 2018. It’s official.

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So what exactly factors into these earnings breakdowns?

Forbes says, “Every driver contract is different, but experienced drivers traditionally commanded salaries of roughly one-third of the sponsorship dollars committed to the car. Drivers were also entitled to a cut of race winnings and merchandise.”

Wow. We’re definitely in the wrong field. But then again, best to leave the hard stuff to the professionals!

nascar driver dale earnhardt jr Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Samantha Stephens absolutely lives for music. When she's not making it, she's talking or writing about it. She's worked in all arenas of the country music world for nearly a decade, from syndicated radio and television to print journalism. She's even been known to crash a red carpet or two, true story.
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