Penske extends Brad Keselowski deal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Penske Racing has signed Brad Keselowski and Miller Lite to contract extensions through the 2017 season.

It's the second contract extension for the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion in less than two years. Keselowski signed an extension after the 2011 season that ran through next year. That contract was redone to put the driver and sponsor in concurrent deals.

Miller Lite is extending a partnership with Roger Penske that spans more than three decades. The beer brand has been the primary sponsor in NASCAR of Penske's flagship No. 2 car since 1991.

"This puts us in great shape because we've got continuity with a sponsor and an elite driver,'' Penske told The Associated Press.

The new contract covers just 24 races instead of the full 36-race schedule Miller Lite had always sponsored. Penske and MillerCoors chief marketing officer Andy England say the 12-race giveback was at Penske's request.

Keselowski said discussions on the extension began after last year's championship as he and Penske charted a plan on how to stay on top in NASCAR. Keselowski cited the continuity surrounding Jimmie Johnson, who won five consecutive championships with the same crew chief and sponsor.

"I feel like, together, Roger and I have done some great things. I have a lot of confidence in him, I like the way he treats me and hopefully he would say the same about me,'' Keselowski told AP.

"It makes me feel very comfortable to go the extra mile to sign a long-term deal. At this point in time, with all these deals lined up, the health, the future of Penske Racing and its employees is now secured, at minimum, for the next half-decade.''

MillerCoors first partnered with Penske as a sponsor at race tracks he owned, and it sponsored Danny Sullivan's 1985 Indianapolis 500 winning car, building a personal relationship with Penske that has survived up-and-down seasons in NASCAR.

"The relationship has lasted so long because of Roger Penske,'' England said. "So when we actually won the Sprint Cup together, that was just the icing on the cake. The cake itself is the strength of the relationship we have with Roger and his team.''

It also comes at a time when sponsors are rethinking their participation in NASCAR.

Not MillerCoors.

"There is a large wave of beer-drinking guys who really enjoy NASCAR and it makes sense for us to be there,'' England said. "These are still enormously attended events, and they don't just shop for three hours. They shop for four days. There's huge levels of commitment for this sport, and we need to be there.''

The cost of sponsorship fluctuates with the economy, and MillerCoors was one of the few companies still sponsoring a full schedule. Race teams set their own fees for inventory based on supply and demand, and top teams can pull in anywhere from $20 million to almost $30 million in a season.

The Penske organization believes it can sell those 12 races elsewhere to generate new revenue.

"You start to look across the Cup Series with the major sponsors and we need to keep them in the business across the long run,'' Penske said. "We looked at going into markets twice; in fact, it was my idea: let us have those markets we got into a second time and give us a chance to bring in another world-class company. We have a number of people very interested in getting on with Brad.''

NASCAR's top Sprint Cup Series visits 13 tracks twice a season, and Keselowski, a rare driver who pays close attention to the business side of the sport, said MillerCoors will increase its activity when it's not on the hood of his car.

"It was Penske Racing that asked Miller to consider these options. We could have done exactly what we've done had Miller come back long-term with 36 races,'' he said. "But it was driven the other way, strategically, to open up races and increase the expenditure. Miller will now move it over to activation, and what's going to happen in the long-term is there is going to be an increase in revenue in the sport, not a decrease.

"This is a huge strategic play that with the naked eye looks like a reduction, but I can assure you it's not a reduction. It's actually an increase to the sport. That might sound like spin, but there's a strategic play here.''

There's always a plan in play with Penske and Keselowski, and they executed this one to perfection.

"We've put Brad now in step with Miller far into the future," Penske said. "He fits the mold that they want. He's open, he's certainly willing to speak his peace, that's what Miller wants, an athlete willing to represent their brand.''

Joey Logano, the driver Keselowski recommended Penske hire as his teammate, earned his first career berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in his debut season with the organization. He has two years remaining on his contract and sponsor Shell-Pennzoil is in a long-term deal. Penske is also in the first year of a five-year manufacturer contract with Ford.