Budweiser to upgrade sponsorship of Kahne's team

The sale of Anheuser-Busch Inc. to Belgian brewer InBev will not affect its NASCAR marketing program. And in fact, the Budweiser motorsports program is expanding in 2009, according to the company's senior marketing team.

Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch vice president of sports marketing, told ESPN.com on Thursday that A-B has signed a multiyear extension to continue its longstanding sponsorship of the season-opening Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.

The length of the new deal was not disclosed.

There had been speculation that the 30-year relationship would end following the 2008 edition of the race, which was originally run in 1979 and dubbed the Busch Clash. It was renamed the Bud Shootout in 1998 before earning its current distinction, the Budweiser Shootout.

"We were there when it wasn't fashionable to be there," Ponturo said. "Why walk away from what works?"

A formal announcement should come next week, Ponturo said.

Budweiser will also upgrade its sponsorship of Kasey Kahne's World of Outlaws team from secondary to primary, Ponturo said.

"It's another way to enforce that this is not a company that's backing off, it's staying aggressive and will continue to support Kasey, the No. 9 team and some of the things that surround his association [with Budweiser]," Ponturo said. "We're going to be the primary sponsor."

Ponturo said the company wants to cement its relationship with Kahne, with more appearances, more in-store signs, more flags at bars, etc.

"The one thing we're hearing loud and clear from this new organization is that things that are working will continue to be a big part of our plan, and clearly NASCAR is working," Ponturo said.

Sports marketing, in general, works for Anheuser-Busch. And in the current economy, where fans are more apt to stay home and watch games, bolsters that, according to Anheuser-Busch executives.

Dave Peacock, Anheuser-Busch vice president of marketing said InBev never questioned the massive sports marketing budget -- estimated at more than $370 million last year -- that Anheuser-Busch shells out.

"They understand how powerful sports is as a connection with consumers, and everything they're about is finding ways to connect more with the consumer," Peacock said. "They see sports as a real driver for the business moving forward."

Ponturo said that Kahne, who replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Bud car after nine years, has fit in well. Earnhardt was the face of the blue-collar, working-man's brand. Kahne, meanwhile, is perceived as one of NASCAR's pretty boys.

"He's the real deal, in our opinion," Ponturo said. "And he's delivering on the track, as well."

Kahne is ranked 11th in the Sprint Cup Series standings, with two points victories and a win in the All-Star Challenge.

"Just a cherry on top," Ponturo said.

Marty Smith covers NASCAR for ESPN.