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NASCAR drivers win big prize money, but they say it takes just as much to make the cars run

  • Racing is far from cheap, NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. told CNBC on Tuesday.
  • Championship wins are important for securing the much-needed sponsorship that provides for the cars.
  • The four drivers are all hoping to win Sunday's competition.

On Sunday, NASCAR drivers will assemble at Homestead-Miami Speedway to race in the Monster Energy Cup Championship. Drivers compete for the love of the game, but for the eventual winner, there's lots of prize money at stake.

And that's a good thing, given that the costs associated with racing are far from cheap, a group of NASCAR drivers told CNBC this week. In fact, the cost of fielding a team can easily reach seven figures.

"It takes about a million dollars a race to run one of these race cars. That's a lot of money," professional stock car driver Brad Keselowski said on CNBC's "Power Lunch."

On Sunday, Keselowski — along with fellow NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. — will compete in the Monster Energy championship. The winner will take home a $1 million purse, in addition to sponsorships that could be worth millions.

Sunday's race takes place as NASCAR revenues have taken a hit, amid falling television viewership, declining revenues at major tracks and unfilled sponsorships. In 2016, the value of the top 10 NASCAR teams fell by 7 percent, Forbes reported earlier this year.

It raises the stakes for a game that takes lots of money to grease the wheels of those fast cars.

"You have to raise a good amount of financial [backers] and capital to race these cars," Keselowski told CNBC. "You have a lot of Fortune 500 companies to make the wheels go 'round."

Winning a championship title "solidifies your future," he added.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona.
Getty Images
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona.

Harvick, a 42 old NASCAR veteran who's been racing for nearly 20 years, partially attributed his long-running career to his 2014 champion win. Last year, Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches extended its partnership with Harvick, which underscored the importance big brands place on visibility at premier NASCAR races.

The company "told me personally, 'this is why we signed up to be on the car,'" Harvick said. "I want to go to Homestead with the chance to see my car win the championship, with my name on the hood."

The prize money is at least as important as the sponsorships, the drivers explained. In some cases, sponsorship cash represents a stream of money that outlast a driver's tenure on the race track.

"We have a time span in our life to make the money that we're going to make for the rest of our lives. And when you win a championship, it really feels great because you know that you're going to be financially secure after you get done performing, after you get done being a race car driver," Keselowski said.

Although the competitors share some similarities with athletes in other sports, they differ in one major way: Their bodies, and their careers, tend to last much longer, they told CNBC.

"It's not like the NFL and Major League Baseball where you're 100 percent dependent upon your body, and thank God because I'm very slow and very uncoordinated," Harvick joked.

Disclosure: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship airs this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, which is also owned by CNBC's parent company, Comcast.