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Forbes: Hendrick most valuable, Smoke the smartest owner

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Forbes has released its annual ranking of NASCAR teams, and in a stunning revelation, Hendrick Motorsports is the most valuable team! I know, shocker, right? Who'd have thought that the team that finished 1-2-3 in the standings last year would be the sport's most valuable?

That's good news for Hendrick fans, but the bad news is that Forbes estimates the value of a top-10 NASCAR team has fallen 10 percent since just 2008. Oh, and the top three highest-paid drivers in NASCAR are all Hendrick cats: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($30 million), Jeff Gordon ($27 million) and Jimmie Johnson ($23 million).

"Salaries for some drivers that have only won a race or two are way beyond where they should be," Zak Brown of Just Marketing International told Forbes. (Those of you who want to pile on you-know-who, there's some fresh ammo for you.)

Hendrick laps the competition with a total value of $350 million. Roush Fenway Racing is ranked second with $238 million, and then it really falls off. Richard Childress Racing is third ($153 million), followed by Joe Gibbs Racing ($144 million) and Richard Petty Motorsports ($124 million). The article notes that sponsor dollars represent an estimated 70 percent of a team's revenues, and therefore when sponsors dry up, so too does the free cash.

One team that saw a nice little bump in earnings was Stewart-Haas, which increased 23 percent to $98 million to rank seventh among all teams. It's the reason why Forbes considers Stewart quite possibly NASCAR's smartest owner.

In terms of financial income, the average team generated $92 million in 2009, a decline of 4 percent from 2008. Part of that came from a 19 percent decline in licensing revenue.

Overall, a grim financial picture, but as Stewart demonstrated, there's hope amid the ruins.

Hendrick valued as top NASCAR team by Forbes [AP via Yahoo! Sports]

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