CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Several dominoes in 2011 team alignments fell into place Wednesday in a flurry of NASCAR activity triggered by Shell Oil Company's decision to transfer its sponsorship from Kevin Harvick to Kurt Busch starting next season.
Shell's move to partner its Pennzoil brand with Busch forced a shuffle at Penske Racing, which will shift its Miller Lite sponsorship to Brad Keselowski next season. Busch has driven the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge since 2006, when he first joined Penske.
"Brad is one of the hottest young drivers in NASCAR, and we're thrilled to welcome him to the Miller Lite Racing family," said Andy England, chief marketing officer at MillerCoors.
"Rarely in this sport are you presented with the opportunity to build a relationship with a top-tier driver at the start of his career."
Keselowski is in his first full season of Sprint Cup racing and his first season with Penske. Miller has sponsored Penske cars for more than 20 years, first with Rusty Wallace then Busch.
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil announced it is ending its relationship with Penske after this season. Mobil 1 sponsors Penske NASCAR driver Sam Hornish Jr. Penske is working to line up a deal for Hornish and remain a three-car team.
"It has been a long and successful relationship, and we wish the Penske team continued success on the track," ExxonMobil said in a statement.
Penske's new deal with Shell was a conflict with Mobil1. The new partnership makes Pennzoil the primary sponsor for Busch, who will move to the No. 22 Dodge. Pennzoil also will be an associate sponsor for Penske's IndyCar drivers: Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe.
It's not clear what Penske will do to fill the gap for Hornish created by ExxonMobil's withdrawal.
All the shuffling at Penske creates a void at Richard Childress Racing, which has used Pennzoil as Harvick's sponsor since 2007.
Harvick is a free agent at the end of this season, and became the most-watched driver after Kasey Kahne announced last week he had signed a deal to drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Kahne must still find a seat for next season.
Harvick, who many assumed would leave RCR, has not commented on his future.
But team owner Childress indicated Wednesday that he's proceeding as if Harvick will be back in 2011.
"What this creates for RCR is the opportunity for a new partner to forge its own relationship and identity with Kevin Harvick and the championship-level team led by crew chief Gil Martin," Childress said in a statement.