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NASCAR slips in money race
It’s race month in Charlotte, but yet another indication of NASCAR’s diminished fortunes can be seen in a new ranking of the highest-paid American athletes. Just one driver from stock-car racing — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — ranks among the top 50 and he just made the list at No. 49.

Sports Illustrated compiles the list each year, known as The Fortunate 50. Boxer Floyd Mayweather ranked first among U.S. athletes, earning $90 million. NBA players LeBron James ($56.5 million) and Kobe Bryant ($46.9 million) ranked second and fourth, respectively, while NFL quarterback Drew Brees ($47.8 million, third on the list) and golfer Tiger Woods ($40.8 million) round out the top five.

The magazine bases its rankings on analysis and estimates of contracts, winnings, bonuses and endorsements. Earnhardt Jr. earned a combined $18.4 million last season, according to SI. Endorsements accounted for $12.6 million and race winnings $5.8 million. The magazine notes Earnhardt Jr. failed to crack the top 10 in NASCAR driver winnings but still lapped the field in total income because of his pitchman roles for Chevy, Nationwide Insurance and the National Guard, among others.

In 2012, four NASCAR drivers ranked in the magazine’s 50 highest-paid athletes list. Jeff Gordon ($23.9 million, 18th), Tony Stewart ($22 million, tied for 29th) and Jimmie Johnson ($21 million, 33rd) were all included last year, along with Earnhardt Jr., who ranked eighth at $28 million. Earnhardt Jr.’s endorsements fell by almost half in the span of year. Fan interest in NASCAR peaked in 2005 and the sport has also been battered by the recession, harder hit than other sports because of the near-collapse of the car industry several years ago. Charlotte Business Journal

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