CUP: Budweiser Headed to RCR, Kevin Harvick

Officials with Anheuser-Busch and Richard Childress Racing are close to finalizing a sponsorship package that would put the popular Budweiser beer brand on the team’s No. 29 Chevrolet with driver Kevin Harvick beginning in 2011, sources said.

An announcement is expected to come within the next week.

Budweiser currently sponsors the No. 9 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne. Kahne will drive for Red Bull Racing in 2011 and is slated to move to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, where he will replace veteran Mark Martin in Hendrick’s No. 5 Chevrolet.

Budweiser, which has a long history in NASCAR, is not expected to remain at RPM.

“Budweiser has decided to go in another direction with regard to its driver/team sponsorship and will announce those plans in the very near future,” Mark Wright, Vice President, Media, Sports & Entertainment Marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Inc., said in a statement provided by the company.

“We enjoyed our three-year relationship with Kasey Kahne and wish him all the best in the future.”

Shell/Pennzoil, which sponsors Harvick, announced in April that the company had struck a deal with Penske Racing to become the primary sponsor of 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch beginning next season. The move includes associate sponsorships with Penske’s IndyCar teams and drivers Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe.

That left RCR looking for a new sponsor for Harvick.

Harvick, 34, currently leads the Sprint Cup standings and two of his 13 career wins have come this season. He also won this year’s Budweiser Shootout, a non-points event held the week before the season-opening Daytona 500.

RCR also fields cars for Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer and announced Wednesday that Paul Menard will join the organization with a new, fourth team next year.

The Budweiser brand has been involved in NASCAR as a primary team sponsor since the mid-1980s when it was affiliated with team owner Junior Johnson (1984-1994). The brand moved to Hendrick Motorsports from 1995-1999, and sponsored the No. 8 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2000-07 before aligning with Kahne in 2008. Kahne drove for Gillett Evernham Motorsports when Budweiser came on board, and the team added Richard Petty as a partner and changed its name prior to the 2009 season. It switched from Dodge to Ford and merged with Yates Racing prior to this season.

The loss of Budweiser and the departures of Kahne and Menard leave RPM with possibly two teams for next year. It announced a contract extension with driver AJ Allmendinger last week. Driver Elliott Sadler said last month that he has had no talks with team officials and doesn’t anticipate driving for the RPM in 2011. RPM officials have not announced any sponsorship plans for 2011, although team co-owners Richard Petty and Foster Gillett said recently that announcements are planned. • Sam Hornish Jr will compete in NASCAR next year