Deuces Wild: Miller/Coors sponsorship for Penske's No. 2 spans two decades

“When we sit down and talk about our NASCAR relationship we don’t talk about whether we’re going to have one, we talk about what we’re going to do and how it’s going to evolve.”
 - Andy England, Chief Marketing Officer of Miller/Coors

In a sport where sponsorship dollars are few and far between, it’s rare to see a company commit long-term to a single team or a single driver. As the cars hit the track at Daytona, the continuity of sponsorship between Miller/Coors and Penske Racing should be celebrated.

Even before the Miller logo appeared on the hood of the No. 2, Roger Penske and the Miller Brewing Co. had worked together for nearly a decade. The relationship began in 1981 at Michigan Speedway and later grew in the 1985 running of the Indianapolis 500 where Danny Sullivan won in the famous “Spin and Win.” With the hiring of Rusty Wallace in 1991 the partnership was solidified.

"Midnight" on display at Rusty Wallace Inc.
Credit: Katy Lindamood
All the sponsorship dollars in the world can't buy a title. That part has to be left up to the human element. According to Roger Penske, “This sport is all about the human capital. It’s about your drivers, it’s about your crew chiefs, it’s about the guy driving the truck, and it’s about the one that’s making sure you get the right information about our company.”

In the more than two decades that have passed since the Miller logo first appeared in NASCAR, the ride now known as the “Blue Deuce” has been the office for some of the most talented drivers in racing history. Although the logos and products featured on the hood of the No. 2 have changed as the brand evolved, the pairing of Miller and Penske is one of the longest-standing primary sponsorships in NASCAR history.

The Foundation: Wallace Builds the Miller Brand and Penske Racing

Few drivers can boast having driven for the same team for 15 years, and even fewer can say they had sponsorship from the same company for the entirety of their tenure, but Rusty Wallace can. From his first race with Penske to his last in 2005, Miller provided primary sponsorship for the 1989 series champion. Although the team changed manufacturers from Pontiac to Ford and later to Dodge, Wallace and the Miller brand were constant contenders throughout the years. From the highs of competing for the championship trophy, to the lows of brutal crashes at Daytona and Talladega in 1993, the team was always in the center of the action.

1996 - Miller used as primary sponsor
Credit: David Taylor/Getty Images
During the decade-and-a-half partnership, Wallace, Penske Racing and Miller had three primary paint schemes including the black and yellow Miller Genuine Draft scheme. Undoubtedly one of the most recognized paint schemes in NASCAR, the MGD logo adorned the hood of the Wallace’s legendary car known as “Midnight” - the chassis that carried him to 13 wins and 31 top 10s. 

Wallace scored a total of 37 wins and 143 top-5 finishes before he took his “last call” at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2005.

Harnessing Horsepower and Temper: Busch Pilots "Blue Deuce"

Kurt Busch joined Penske racing in 2006, taking over for the retired Wallace as driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. An aggressive driver known for his short temper and short track prowess, Busch won the first Nextel Cup in 2004. Driving for Jack Roush the Las Vegas native scored 14 wins in his four full seasons with the team and was considered a strong contender for the 2005 championship, but even under the best conditions there were problems. Busch was released from his contract and after being pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the team officially retired as Kurt Busch’s “apologists” and parked him for the final two races of the season.

Busch, in the Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates at Charlotte.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Busch’s driving style and his take-no-prisoners approach to racing was appealing to Penske, but as time progressed the relationship was at best tumultuous. Verbal tirades aimed toward his team and owner did nothing to change the public perception of Busch as a bully, but even through the struggles Busch led the Miller Lite No. 2 to eight points wins in four years, including a May sweep of Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2010.

In 2011 Busch moved from behind the wheel of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge to the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge. Following a public meltdown after a blown engine in the season finale at Homestead, Busch and Penske parted ways, making room for AJ Allmendinger to join the team.

Capitalizing on Potential: The Future of Miller/Coors and Penske Racing

Keselowski finished 2011 in the fifth position.
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
In his second full season with Penske Racing, Brad Keselowski was tapped in 2011 to become only the third NASCAR driver in two decades to drive the Miller Lite Dodge. Earning a NASCAR Nationwide Series championship the previous year for Penske, “Bad Brad” was touted as the next big thing though many questioned his sanity in joining the team in the beginning, after he walked away from a possible future with powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.

A protege of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski’s preseason rankings heading into 2011 were dismal at best, but the Rochester Hills, Mich., native silenced naysayers when he went on a tear halfway through the season. 2011 wasn’t easy for Keselowski, who sustained a serious ankle and leg injury during a test session at Road Atlanta. In visible pain Keselowski earned his second win of the season just days later at Pocono Raceway.

The driver who went in ranked 21st earned three victories in his first season as driver of the "Blue Deuce" and finished fifth in the series standings. According to Keselowski, “We may have undersold and over-delivered and that’s the plan for 2012. I’m committed to getting the first championship here at Penske Racing.”

The Miller Lite team celebrates its third win of 2011 at Bristol.
Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
During the 2012 Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Miller/Coors announced they will continue their relationship with NASCAR for the next several years, sponsoring the Coors Light pole award and as the Official Beer of NASCAR. In addition, Miller/Coors has extended their partnership with Penske Racing and driver Keselowski as they look to bring Roger Penske the elusive Sprint Cup.

Andy England, chief marketing officer for the brand, calls Keselowski a great racer with tremendous perseverance. Keselowski's momentum going into 2012 and that perseverance, coupled with a new teammate in AJ Allmendinger, may be exactly what the team needs to finally win the title.

From their first Daytona 500 in 1991 to this weekend’s 54th running of the Great American Race, Penske and Miller/Coors have shown that drivers who are a little rough around the edges, who had to claw and scratch their way into the sport, and who are in the prime of their careers are the right combination needed for success.

Roger Penske, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski will always be a part of the Miller/Coors legacy. Dedication to Miller/Coors, hard-charging attitudes, and love for the sport of NASCAR have helped guide the evolution of the product and Penske Racing.

It’s the perfect partnership for all involved.

A NASCAR fan for nearly 20 years, Katy Lindamood is the founder of Skirts and Scuffs. While most teenagers were drooling over the latest teen heart throb, Katy was perched on the couch crunching numbers and taking notes on what was going on in the world of racing. Today Katy leads a team of more than two dozen female writers and photographers with the goal of giving female fans a voice and debunking the stereotypes she's dealt with since the age of 12. Katy can be contacted via Twitter or email.
Deuces Wild: Miller/Coors sponsorship for Penske's No. 2 spans two decades Deuces Wild: Miller/Coors sponsorship for Penske's No. 2 spans two decades Reviewed by Katy Lindamood on Sunday, February 26, 2012 Rating: 5