* Hendrick Motorsports most valuable team at $350 mln
* Hendrick stars Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson top earners
* Forbes sees top drivers' pay continuing to drop in 2010
By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, March 24 The superstar Hendrick Motorsports stock car team has held its value in the face of falling attendance and sponsorship spending that has hurt the fortunes of NASCAR overall.
The team, which boasts the three top-earning drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson -- is once again ranked as the most valuable in NASCAR, according to an annual list released on Wednesday by Forbes magazine.
Forbes said Hendrick was worth $350 million, holding steady from last year, and nearly 50 percent more than runner-up Roush Fenway Racing, one of the many teams whose value declined.
Last year was difficult for NASCAR, one of the most popular U.S. sports with an estimated 75 million fans, as corporate sponsorship cutbacks forced many teams to cut jobs and in some cases merge to survive.
The average value of a NASCAR team fell to $143 million, down 10 percent from 2008, according to Forbes.
The business magazine said attendance at NASCAR events fell 17 percent in 2009 from a year earlier.
That drop has hurt race track owners such as International Speedway Corp (ISCA.O), which have responded by cutting prices on tickets, concessions and merchandise.
NASCAR has also struggled to keep the attention of television viewers. The average number of viewers for its top Sprint Cup racing season slid more than 11 percent to about 7 million last year, according to Nielsen Co.
Still, some drivers fared very well. Earnhardt earned $30 million in 2009, followed by Gordon with $27 million and Johnson, winner of the Sprint Cup title four years running, with $23 million.
Even though those three earned paydays to make anyone envious, the top 10 drivers on average earned 6 percent less in in 2009 and Forbes said their winnings should fall further this year.
To see more details on Forbes' ranking, please visit www.forbes.com/nascar. (Reporting by Phil Wahba; additional reporting by Ben Klayman)