Start of Kentucky race offers a toast to NASCAR’s enduring beer rivalry

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SPARTA, Ky. – Their battles might not be as bitter as some products they are hawking, but the beermakers will begin Saturday night front and center again in NASCAR’s premier series.

A washout of Sprint Cup qualifying at Kentucky Speedway resulted in a throwback quirk that put Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light-sponsored Chevrolet alongside Brad Keselowski No. 2 Miller Lite Ford on the front row of the Quaker State 400.

Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors have been racing against each other for years, though Keselowski (who has been sponsored by Miller since 2011) said the relationship has become more cordial.

“It seems like the beer wars are maybe not as confrontational as they once were, and there tends to be a lot of crossover fans between the two, which I think is great, but I know that our fans really appreciate that those brands are a part of this sport,” he said. “And it draws a direct lineage to their lifestyles and to see those brands in there, and they’re fans of our sport and they like what that stands for.

“I feel like it’s critical to have those brands in there, and that they feed off each other.  There is always going to be some bit of a rivalry, but it certainly seems to be less contentious than in times past. There’s almost a little bit of camaraderie that there are two cars like that in here. I think it’s a good thing in general.”

But there is a history of some frosty and furious marketing rivalries that sometimes bled over to how their drivers interacted. While driving the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet more than a decade ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. once was asked about a stirring battle for the lead with Rusty Wallace’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. “His car is blue, and mine’s red,” Earnhardt quipped.

Keselowski said it’s less important to him when he beats Harvick.

“It’s not the first thing that comes to mind by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “What’s interesting is Miller won their first championship in 2012 and Budweiser I know has won a handful before, and despite that, there was an era for at least 20 years where neither one of them had a championship.

“I think there was probably a period where the beer cars started to become maybe not thought of as a performance car to drive, and now we’re seeing that change again, which I think is kind of cool.”