Kasey Kahne got a lot more than just a new sponsor on Wednesday. He also got the beginnings of an image makeover.
As expected, Budweiser -- complete with a thunderous entrance by its trademark Clydesdales -- announced it was taking its high-profile marketing campaign and Nextel Cup Series sponsorship to Gillett Evernham Motorsports next season to pair with Kahne, one of NASCAR's rising stars.
The sponsor, which has been involved in NASCAR since 1983, has been attached with Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- NASCAR's most popular driver -- since his full-time debut in the Cup series with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2000.
When Earnhardt Jr. decided he would leave DEI for Hendrick Motorsports at season's end, it marked the end of that very profitable partnership.
Can the mild-mannered, shy, 27-year-old native of Enumclaw, Wash., match marketing prowess with NASCAR's beer-swigging bachelor with the famous last name? Is Kahne, in effect, a "beer guy?"
Anheuser-Busch executives believe they have hit on another winning combination -- on the track and off.
"I think what you are going to see is marketing initiatives that take a lot of his core attributes and take him into a different direction. Now, will he be the typical Bud driver that we've come to know? No," said Tim Schoen, vice president of sports and entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Busch.
"What he will be is the new Bud driver. We are going to see new marketing initiatives and positioning that are slightly different than in years past."
While Budweiser's target audience has been primarily males, Kahne has a large female fan base, which is targeted extensively in an ad campaign by Allstate, another of his sponsors.
"His female base is very interesting for Budweiser. We have many female customers as well. So we'll want to build on that and on the male side, which is our core audience, I think you'll see something different," Schoen said.
"We're not going to put him in situations that are not conducive to him. We might stretch him a little bit, but we're not going to make him something he's not."
Kahne stepped into almost instant success since his Cup debut in the No. 9 Dodge in 2004 with team co-owner Ray Evernham.
He won rookie of the year honors in 2004, earning four poles, 13 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. He picked up his first series win in 2005 and won six races and six poles last season.
Kahne said when first approached about the idea of Budweiser sponsoring his team, history came to mind.
"I was more worried about the car and seeing all the names of the drivers who have worn the uniform and wondering, `How would I look in a Bud suit?' " he said.
"Now, you think about the image, the fans. Dale Jr. has so many fans. It's not even close. It's ridiculous how many fans he has. I think we'll have some of those. They're Budweiser fans, too."
As for how he will be portrayed in Budweiser's marketing campaign, Kahne said he wasn't sure. "I wonder what they are dreaming up right now. I know it will be exciting," he said.