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Sprint Cup champion's prize cut in half; money to be spread among 25

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Four drivers will compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the intensity for the trophy unchanged but for a champion's bonus less than half of last season's, sources tell ESPN.

The overall point fund last year was $21.765 million, with the champion slated to earn about $4.7 million (Kyle Busch's take was less because he missed 11 races), and this year it will be less than half that amount.

Second place last year paid $2.1 million, third $1.58 million, with seventh place on back earning less than a million.

As part of the new charter system and in an effort to make their revenue stream more predictable, NASCAR and the team owners' Race Team Alliance agreed to pay the champion less but spread the point fund more equitably throughout the top 25 drivers and teams.

Drivers typically get paid a percentage of purse and point-fund money in addition to a base salary.

"The champion should get his level of money and then [Nos.] 2 through 4 should get his level of money and then each Chase [elimination] bracket should get their level of money," said Busch, who indicated he did not favor the new formula. "What they tried to do is they tried to even it out from first all the way back to last in order to make the sport more sustainable for everybody.

"When you're the driver and not the owner and you're taking home a percentage of that, that hurts you really bad. It was done through the RTA. It wasn't done through the driver council. So we had absolutely no say in it so that's why it's the way that it is."

The overall point fund increased in 2016, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Brett Dewar said, but he wouldn't elaborate, citing confidentiality clauses in the charters, about the distribution.

The teams obviously had to share with the drivers what they were getting from NASCAR as they reworked agreements based on the new system unveiled in February.

"I think it is a million-and-a-half to win a Cup," six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "The last time I stood on stage, it was 7-and-a-half [million]. It's a huge change."

Sources familiar with the charter agreements indicated the 2016 bonus to the championship team is much closer to $2 million than $1.5 million. The last time Johnson was on stage, in 2013, the champion bonus was $5.2 million, with Johnson and his team having total earnings of $14.66 million. Johnson and his team did get a $7.225 million champion bonus in 2008.

"It doesn't matter," Busch said. "To me, how I've always looked about it ... I've always raced to achieve what I want to achieve based on success and results.

"It hasn't been for the money. You do want to get paid for what you do. You want to get paid well if you're better at what you do. It all comes down to taking home trophies."

NASCAR stopped publishing how much money a driver earns for the team each week in the purse and does not plan to publicize the bonus structure as it has in the past, citing the new charter system structure.

"The first race I won was $125," championship finalist Carl Edwards said. "We don't race for money, but I'm sure it pays fine. ... I'm not too worried about that part of it."

The 36 charter teams get dollars from two pools of money based on participation -- a fixed amount each team gets, and then an amount based on the team's finishes the previous three years, most heavily weighted to the previous season, which means that the champion will earn more for his team over the next three years than if he had finished lower in the standings.

Charter and non-charter teams vie for the same amount of purse money for each race through the field (obviously less than in past years because much of the money is part of the fixed amount) and year-end bonus money that goes to the top 25 owners and drivers.

"Early in the year, there was shuffling around, drivers getting their agreements situated," Johnson said. "The money is still coming to the teams but where it goes and how the agreements read, from a purse standpoint, traditional purse standpoint, it is what it is."

There are a handful of agents and lawyers who handle most contracts for drivers, who at the start of the year said the teams for the most part worked with them to try to adjust their pay scales to the new formula as it is no longer as simple as a percentage of the purse.

"There's a whole formula involved," Busch said. "It's quite confusing. So I'm not exactly sure if I'll make 100 percent of what I made last year [if I win the title] or 80 percent or something within there. I don't know exactly."

The drivers will find out how much money they make when the check comes.

"I don't even know what it pays to win this thing," finalist Joey Logano said. "I will care, yes, but really my goal is to beat everyone. That is the biggest reward that you can feel from inside, that moment of victory, not the moment of the check.

"That is still really cool and you can do a lot of really great things with [the money] ... but that [winning moment] is the coolest thing."