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NASCAR's most valuable teams and highest paid drivers

[An] increasingly worrying lack of TV viewership coupled with a general investment pullback from sponsors and team owners has put NASCAR in a tight spot. The top eight NASCAR teams are now worth an average $158 million, down 2% from last year.

Perhaps the most worrying indicator is that some of NASCAR's biggest sponsors, the very lifeblood of the sport, have been scaling back their investments. Miller Lite, which has been a partner of Team Penske for nearly three decades, recently renewed its sponsorship agreement but dropped its seasonal commitment from 24 races to just 11 races.

And a significant number of sponsors have even walked away from the sport entirely: Target, Subway, Dollar General and Cheerios have all jumped ship in the last two years. Things aren't any better at the league level. Last year the series saw a significant drop in revenue from its title sponsorship after Monster took over for Sprint, and a few months ago Coors Light ended its partnership as NASCAR's official beer; that deal has yet to be replaced.

Last year Roush Fenway Racing leased one of its three charters, and this year the team sold that charter off, permanently scaling down to two cars. Once the most valuable team in NASCAR, Roush now ranks sixth with a value of $140 million, down 55% from $313 million a decade ago. Richard Childress Racing is also running just two cars this year, Richard Petty Motorsports is down to one and even Furniture Row Racing, which won last year's championship, has ditched one of its charters and returned to being a one-car outfit.

The good news is that the trio of Hendrick, Gibbs and Stewart-Haas, Nascar's three most valuable teams, continue to fund robust four-car garages, though with slightly leaner bottom lines (the three had combined operating income of $17 million last year, down from $36 million the year before). Team Penske has also expanded operations this year, buying a third charter before the season. The new No. 12 car is being driven by Ryan Blaney, who appears destined for success after dominating much of Sunday's Daytona 500. The team is now worth $142 million, up 5% over last year.

--- Forbes ---

AND Dale Earnhardt retired at the end of the 2017 Nascar season after nearly two decades in the spotlight as the most famous progeny in the sport. Earnhardt failed to rich Victory Lane last year, but he cemented his spot at the top among fans with his 15th straight year winning NASCAR Most Popular Driver award. He was named on 68% of the votes cast by fans.

Earnhardt also nabbed another title before taking his talents to the NBC broadcast booth. The 43-year-old recaptured his place as the highest-earning driver in his swansong season after a one-year hiatus where Jimmie Johnson usurped him. Earnhardt earned $22 million in 2017 by Forbes' count, thanks to NASCAR highest salary and top merchandise sales.

Earnhardt was NASCAR top-earner for seven straight years until 2016 when a concussion sidelined him for the final 18 races of the season and Johnson captured his seventh Cup championship, plus the roughly $2 million Cup title bonus (Jeff Gordon was the last driver to surpass Earnhardt before that).

Johnson ranked second with total earnings of $19.2 million, as he finished a disappointing 10th in the final Cup standings. Johnson signed a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports last year to drive the No. 48 car through at least 2020. The new deal should keep him at the top of driver earnings chart with Earnhardt's retirement.

Rounding out the top five are Kyle Busch ($14.7 million), Denny Hamlin ($14.6 million) and Kevin Harvick ($13.6 million).

--- Forbes ---