By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001
DAYTONA BEACH -- NBC's lead pit reporter Bill Weber called it early.
"Could Michael Waltrip," he asked as Waltrip surged during the second half of the Pepsi 400, "be writing another Daytona miracle story?"
Indeed he was. Maybe not the kind Weber was thinking, but hey, nobody could have thought this one up.
It's hard to imagine a more dramatic finish than Fox's first NASCAR Winston Cup broadcast, February's Daytona 500, but somehow Saturday's race matched it. NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol could only thank "that great NASCAR scriptwriter in the sky."
It's a great story that Ebersol loves, and nothing could beat watching Waltrip block for Dale Earnhardt Jr., just as Earnhardt Sr. had done for Waltrip in February before Earnhardt's fatal crash.
If NBC's first broadcast didn't match the quality of Fox's debut, nobody is likely to remember anything that happened before the final 15 minutes. And NBC handled those extremely well.
Reporter Marty Snider was the real star, following Dale Jr.'s team throughout the race and breaking in often with real insight and useful information. His interview with Dale Jr.'s crew chief, Tony Eury Sr., in the final laps added depth to the coverage and made Eury's embrace of Earnhardt Jr. after the race that much more meaningful.
And while the three-man booth of announcer Allen Bestwick and analysts Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach didn't always seem at ease with each other, their enthusiasm and emotion were contagious in the final laps.
Bestwick echoed the thoughts of probably most every viewer when he closed the broadcast with a simple statement: "This does so much for the thousands of spectators, millions of Dale Earnhardt fans, who needed a piece of closure for Daytona."
So true. So what does it matter that things didn't always go well for NBC on Saturday?
Not much, but the glitches are worth mentioning. About 70 minutes into the race, a video switch error caused problems with the audio and graphics for about 10 minutes.
A bigger issue, one that NBC said wasn't its fault, was that the global satellite positioning technology (known as FoxTrax on Fox broadcasts), provided by a company called Sportvision, would not work. NBC was able to use only one aspect, a feature called "Speed Trap," which tells viewers which drivers are running the fastest over a short stretch of track.
And NBC's broadcast team has some growing to do. Rookie Dallenbach didn't seem entirely comfortable with the two veterans, and was certainly not the instant success that Darrell "Jaws" Waltrip proved to be. But he contributed some nice insights.
"The most difficult thing to do in all of sports is to have a three-person booth jell," Ebersol said. "I would guess over the course of the next five races ... (it) will be a real natural evolution."
PRERACE COVERAGE: NBC got off to a solid start, offering both a humorous Earnhardt retrospective -- a nice change after months of somberness -- and some pointed questioning of NASCAR officials about safety issues and its investigation into Earnhardt's death. Weber quizzed NASCAR president Mike Helton and NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. about the Earnhardt investigation, the results of which will be released next month.
CLASSY CONTINUITY: Bestwick credited "our colleagues at Fox" with starting a tradition of a silent lap No. 3 in memory of Earnhardt. "We feel it appropriate," Bestwick said before falling silent, "and we're proud to carry that tradition on."
STEWART DOING DOUBLE DUTY ... AGAIN: Driver Tony Stewart, who made headlines in May when he raced in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, will head from Daytona to the TNT broadcast booth in Watkins Glen today for the Busch Grand National race. Stewart, who entered fourth in Winston Cup points, will serve as an analyst for selected BGN races this season.
We would like to get your reaction to NBC's NASCAR Winston Cup coverage of Saturday's Pepsi 400. Please e-mail your remarks with your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll publish some of the responses Monday.