Anheuser-Busch drops 8 races from deal, says change 'isn't a step back'


CONCORD, N.C. --- Anheuser-Busch will cut the number of races it sponsors Kevin Harvick next season, but company officials said Thursday they are committed to the sport and will reallocate the funds as it makes the transition from Budweiser to Busch as the driver's primary sponsor.

Anheuser-Busch director of experiential marketing Nick Kelly said the company will use Harvick in more commercials and in more promotional material with the switch to having Busch name and colors on the car for 12 races instead of the familiar red-and-white Budweiser for 20 races.

Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, will have sponsorship from Jimmy John's for the majority of the races, and the sandwich company is expected to absorb many of the races left open by Budweiser.

Budweiser has been a primary sponsor of a car at NASCAR's highest level for the past 33 years, including Harvick since 2011. The Anheuser-Busch deal with SHR runs out after the 2016 season, and Kelly said negotiations about an extension are taking place.

"It's not a step back for us," Kelly said Thursday during the paint scheme unveiling Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's just more of a different direction. ... We're trying to reach new fans."

Kelly said Budweiser will remain a part of the sport in deals with tracks, although he doesn't anticipate sponsoring races. He said the company has not had any talks with NASCAR about replacing Sprint, which will leave as sponsor of NASCAR's Cup Series after next season.

Busch began sponsoring NASCAR's pole award in 1978 and sponsored NASCAR's preseason race at Daytona from 1979 through 1997. It sponsored the car of Cale Yarborough in 1979 and 1980 and sponsored what is now NASCAR's Xfinity Series from 1984-2007.

"Looking at Budweiser or Bud Light, awareness among Americans is already at 99 percent," Kelly said. "We didn't need awareness anymore. ... The biggest thing for us was the opportunity to bring a brand back that had been with the sport for 40 years. Busch has been basically dormant [in NASCAR] since they left the Busch Series."