Daytona 500 2012: Record Purse Features $200,000 Halfway Leader Bonus

On the day after a wreck-filled Budweiser Shootout, drivers lined up on pit road and patiently waited their turn for Daytona 500 qualifying. That process seems to take forever at Daytona, so some drivers were a little bored and looked for something to pass the time.

Part of that included talking to members of the media – voluntarily! – while waiting their turn.

I asked several drivers about if the Bud Shootout would change how they planned to race the Daytona 500, since it was obvious pack racing had returned. Most said they would like to hang back and stay out of the pack – because that was a good way to get caught in a crash – but some said they preferred to race up front and be ahead of the trouble.

But one of them (I'm not using his name because the conversation wasn't on the record) had a different reason for wanting to be among the leaders.

"Well, I want to be at the front around lap 100, I know that much," he said.

The driver was referring to the new $200,000 bonus given to whoever is leading at the halfway point of Sunday's race. When it was announced, I dismissed the bonus as a gimmick and figured no driver would pay much attention to it.

But the driver in question sure was aware of it.

"Think about it," he said. "If you're leading at halfway and you get $200,000, then the race pays a minimum of, what, $400,000?"

Actually, it's more like $450,000. One year ago, the 43rd-place finisher received more than $250,000; not a bad day at the office, really.

But in the grand scheme of things, isn't $200,000 a drop in the bucket for these multimillionaire drivers?

"Heck no!" the driver said (though he's not one of the richer ones).

So there you have it. At least one driver in the 43-car field is impressed enough with the prospect of an extra $200,000 to try and lead at halfway.

Overall, the Daytona 500 purse this year will be $19.1 million – a record for the event. The winner is guaranteed to collect a minimum of $1.43 million (and that's not including the contingency awards that get added in if the driver's team is part of those programs).

Here are the minimum payouts for the top five finishers:

Winner – $1,431,325

Second place – $1,050,075

Third place – $759,600

Fourth place – $609,900

Fifth place – $486,550

Of course, it's worth noting that drivers don't get to keep all of their race winnings. A standard driver contract is a base salary plus 40-50 percent of the winnings (the rest goes to the team) and 33 percent of merchandise sales.

But even if they only keep half, that would still be enough money to make most of us happy for a long, long time.

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