Opinion: Dollars And Sense

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A recent artile in Forbes magazine listed the top ten NASCAR drivers in terms of the salaries they command.

Let's just say there won't be any tag days for anyone on that list.

According to the financial publication here were the highest-paid drivers in the sport last season:

No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnings: $30 million
No. 2 Jeff Gordon: Earnings: $27 million
No. 3 Jimmie Johnson: Earnings: $23 million
No. 4 Tony Stewart: Earnings: $19 million
No. 5 Carl Edwards: Earnings: $14 million
No. 6 Kevin Harvick: Earnings: $13 million
No. 7 (tie) Kyle Busch: Earnings: $12 million
No. 7 (tie) Kasey Kahne: Earnings: $12 million
No. 9 (tie) Matt Kenseth: Earnings: $11 million
No. 9 ( tie) Mark Martin: Earnings: $11 million

Now one thing to keep in mind is that these figures include a wide range of revenue ranging from pure salary to percentage of winnings and the addition of promotional and merchandising efforts.

With that criteria in place, maybe it's not surprising that Earnhardt, Jr. leads the list. Despite his recent struggles on the track, the sport's perennial Most Popular Driver is still the must lucrative ticket in attracting sponsorships and marketing dollars.

But with Jimmie Johnson sitting third on the heels of becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to win four straight titles, the question about whether style is more important than substance needs to be asked. If rewarding a driver on pure excellence were the only factor in the equation, Johnson would hands down have to be the most compensated on the circuit.

There's obviously more to it than that.

However for many fans it's not what formula is used to put money into drivers' bank accounts, it's the staggering numbers that follow the dollar signs. With a large segment of NASCAR's largely blue collar audience struggling to make ends meet during these tough economic times, it's a difficult task for some to relate to the millionaires who drive Sprint Cup cars on a weekly basis.

There is an understandable detachment by some fans from a number of today's NASCAR stars who are viewed by some as either a) not worthy of the large sums of money they earn for piloting a stock car or b) just another elite professional athlete who is out of touch with the common folk.

It's a phenomenon not unique to NASCAR. With all professional sports athletes' salaries readily available, baseball players making $20 million a year or basketball stars pulling down $15-18 million also face the same scrutiny.

But isn't the bottom line of any entertainment vehicle simply that - it's ability to entertain? Do fans truly not enjoy a thrilling baseball game because the collective salaries of the players on the field is more than the government of some third world countries? Does a funny comedy or thrilling action movie suffer because the film's stars are pulling down $20 million a film?

If a NASCAR race is enjoyable, action-packed and filled with memorable action, what difference does it make what the drivers are earning every year?

Apparently to some people plenty.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2010

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