CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Anheuser-Busch will end its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s No. 2 series after the 2007 season.

The parent company for Busch beer cited A-B’s desire to reassess all of its NASCAR marketing as its reason for pulling out of the Busch Series. The company just celebrated its 25th season as title sponsor.

The decision, confirmed by series officials Monday, comes as ESPN prepares to become the sole broadcaster of the No. 2 racing series in the United States. That increased coverage – the Busch Series has previously aired on as many as four networks in one season – should increase the sponsorship rights to about three times the estimated $10 million a year that A-B has been paying.

“We think the Busch Series is a property that has been undermarketed and undervalued from a broadcast standpoint,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s marketing chief executive. “With our new TV agreement and the resources ESPN is going to put against it, this series is not going to be an afterthought.”

Phelps said NASCAR would start serious negotiations in January for a new title sponsor, but had no timetable for securing a replacement for Busch.

“We’re doing our due diligence with ESPN to determine how we will jointly call on companies,” Phelps said. “We’re going to continue to evaluate what this series represents, but right now, it represents great racing.

“If you look at it as its own property instead of the little brother (to the Nextel Cup Series) it’s stronger than any motorsports series except Nextel Cup. That’s how it needs to be marketed.”

Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand will continue its sponsorship as “the official beer of NASCAR,” as well as its role as the primary sponsor of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Budweiser also will continue to sponsor the weekly pole award and the annual Budweiser Shootout.

, the exhibition race held each February that marks the start of the season.

“On most weekends, we get a very focused message to the consumer, but we’re starting to dilute ourselves with Bud and Busch,” Tony Ponturo, A-B’s vice president of global media and sports marketing told The Sports Business Journal.

“In this day and age of competition, the last thing you want is to dilute your own effort.”

According to a Joyce Julius study, no other sponsor in NASCAR received as much exposure as A-B did in 2006.

Busch took over its role as title sponsor for a series that was first known as Late Model Sportsman and later the Grand National Series.

But the series is at somewhat of a crossroads these days because of an infiltration of Nextel Cup drivers who have used it as a playground of sorts and made it difficult to remain a true training ground for young talent.

Kevin Harvick, a Nextel Cup star, won the Busch title this past season by an enormous margin and Cup regulars won all but two of the 35 events. Full-time Cup drivers also earned eight of the top 10 spots in the final standings.

But their inclusion has helped the series grow, and ESPN plans to treat it similarly to Nextel Cup broadcasts when the network takes over next month.

AP-ES-12-18-06 1732EST


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