NASCAR’s endless money chase claims another victim: Morgan-McClure Motorsports of Abingdon — once a major player in the stock car racing series — closed its doors Friday — the latest in a series of small, independent teams to either shut down or be absorbed into larger operations.

Reports The Roanoke Times:

Morgan-McClure Motorsports essentially closed its doors Friday, laying off a majority of its employees and further damaging any slim hopes the last Virginia-based Sprint Cup team has of competing in its 26th season.

"We are basically closing the doors on 25 years of NASCAR racing," said Tim Morgan, president of Morgan-McClure Motorsports.

"We have been searching for sponsorship for months and decided that if nothing materialized, we would have to cancel testing and release most of our employees."

According to the team’s web site, their race cars are for sale and the bio page for former driver Ward Burton, released last week, is empty.

For a team that won 63 races, including three Daytona 500s, the end is a bittersweet commentary to the big-business commerciaism that has overtaken NASCAR. A small, single-car operation just can’t compete against big-money power teams from Hendrick, Rousch and Gibbs. They have the money, the power and the sponsorship to compete.

But the money train may be stalling for NASCAR as well.

Reports The Nashville Tennessean:

NASCAR, once touted as the nation’s fastest-growing spectator sport, has stalled in terms of TV ratings, and some say the fan appeal of the high-speed stock-car circuit is sputtering amid more empty seats at some tracks.

The sport still draws tens of thousands of fans to prime events, crowds that easily beat University of Tennessee football for top races. And it rakes in billions of dollars a year in TV revenue, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships as companies such as Dollar General, State Farm insurance, Sprint and Tylenol plunk down cash to get their logos painted on cars or sponsor races.

But season-long TV ratings for the Sunday cup races, the most important in the sport, dropped 18 percent in 2007 from their record-high year of 2005, according to the Fox network, which shares the 10-month season of NASCAR broadcasts with ABC/ESPN and TNT.

“It is in a lull, and clearly the sexiness of the sport from a marketer’s standpoint is not as great as it has been,” said Brian Evans, director of client relations for Atlanta-based Verve Sponsorship Group, which matches corporate sponsors with racing teams.

Those close to NASCAR acknowledge the problems, but say it wouldn’t be an easy fix.

“I think it might be in a little more than a lull,” said Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion and current NASCAR analyst for Fox television who lives in Franklin.

Clearly, NASCAR’s chase for the big bucks have alienated many long-time fans, including the residents of Chateau Thompson. We go to the small track races but shun the NASCAR showcase events. Our last visit to a Nextel (now Sprint) Cup event was Martinsville in 2005. Ironically, the last Daytona 500 we attended as spectators was won by Sterling Martin, driving for Morgan-McCure

(Photos above and below from 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup race in Martinsville. Morgan McClure’s team was sponsored by Lucas Oil at the time and was competitive early in the race, leading 2005 champion Tony Stewart (below) at one point)