Prize money is distributed based on two central factors. First, each track posts its racing purse, with the most money going to the winner, and each consecutive slot being paid a smaller amount.
It’s possible, though, for a driver to not win the race and take home the largest total purse. In fact, it’s quite common due to NASCAR’s numerous bonus payouts.
A driver could receiver a bonus payout for a number of reasons, including: leading the most laps, gaining the most positions, having the worst luck.
The defending series champion can also receive bonuses throughout the year to which no other drivers are privy.
Those combined factors is why Jimmie Johnson won more than $8.1 million while finishing in third in 2012, and Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski netted $6.2M.