But what really separates Earnhardt from the rest of Nascar’s top drivers is his off-the-track earnings, which were $13 million last year. While Earnhardt’s licensing income is down like all drivers (some as much as 80%), he still generated the most licensing dollars in the sport last year. His endorsement income is tops as well, thanks to personal deals with Chevy, Goody’s, Nationwide, Wrangler and more. His latest deal is a partnership with Minnesota snack company KLN Family Brands to form Dale Jr. Foods. Last month, they introduced four Dale Jr. flavors of potato chips: Crispy Original, Carolina Barbecue, Creole & Green Onion and Zesty Jalapeno.
Another Hendrick driver, Jimmie Johnson, ranks No. 2 with earnings of $23 million. In fact, all four Hendrick drivers are among the 10 highest paid with Jeff Gordon No. 4 ($18 million) and Kasey Kahne at No. 9 ($12 million). Johnson barely missed his sixth Sprint Cup title in 2012, but it was still a banner year on the track, as he earned a Nascar-high $8.1 million in race winnings for the No. 48 car. His “Special Awards” and Sprint Cup bonuses added another $2.3 million.
Danica Patrick, ranks No. 7 with earnings of $12.9 million in 2012. Her merchandise was Nascar’s ninth best seller in 2012, according to Fanatics.com, one of the largest online retailers of officially licensed sports merchandise. But that ranking will jump this year, as she only raced in 10 Sprint Cup races last year and will be running a full-time Sprint Cup schedule in 2013 for the first time. Her merchandise was flying off shelves after she secured the pole for the Daytona 500. Her gear was Nascar’s best seller in the week leading up to Daytona on Fanatics.com–a spot usually reserved for Earnhardt. The Go Daddy girl has 15 personal sponsors including: Coca-Cola, Nationwide, Tissot and Sega.
The top 10, according to Forbes:
• Earnhardt Jr. -- $25.9 million ($12.9 salary/winnings, $13M endorsements)
• Johnson -- $23 million ($16.3M salary/winnings, $6.7M endorsements)
• Tony Stewart -- $18.7 million ($12.7M salary/winnings, $6M endorsements)
• Jeff Gordon -- $18.1 million ($12.6M salary/winnings, $5.5M endorsements)
• Carl Edwards -- $13.7 million ($12.2M salary/winnings, $1.5M endorsements)
• Kevin Harvick -- $13 million ($11.5M salary/winnings, $1.5M endorsements)
• Patrick -- $12.9 million ($6.4M salary/winnings, $6.5M endorsements)
• Kyle Busch -- $12.5 million ($9.6M salary/winnings, $2.9M endorsements)
• Kasey Kahne -- $12 million ($11M salary/winnings, $1M endorsements)
• Keselowski -- $11.4 million ($10M salary/winnings, $1.4M endorsements