Thoughts and observations from Saturday's Pepsi 400 broadcast:
+ NBC for the most part did a solid job covering its first race of the season _ as usual, the pit reporters were the strength of the network's crew _ but could not avoid occasional cheesiness and overstatement from the three men in the booth. Analyst Benny Parsons provided probably the broadcast's worst moment, a self-promoting, wince-inducing "interview" after the race with winner and NASCAR rookie Greg Biffle. "I told Jack Roush (of Roush Racing) five or six years ago that you could get the job done," Parsons told him. "You proved me right. You owe me a big dinner, all right?"
+ Everybody knows Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a sentimental favorite (NBC even dubbed him "The face of NASCAR" in a prerace interview). But announcer Allen Bestwick went overboard midway through the race when he declared Junior "the all-American boy, his red, white and black car in front." After Andy Roddick was bumped from Wimbledon on Friday, NBC must have felt it really needed some backward-cap-wearing, scrubbed young celebrity face to promote July 4 weekend.
+ Speaking of hyperbole, Bestwick got ahead of himself on Lap 74, immediately blurting out, "Trouble in Turn 2. Is this the big one?" when Kurt Busch's No. 97 blew its rear right tire and spun out in a cloud of smoke. The incident ultimately involved seven cars, but it was fairly tame by Daytona standards. And seemingly too tame for Bestwick, who with 33 laps to go reminded viewers "the tension grows in the closing laps, the big wreck still a possibility."
+ Thank goodness for NBC's pit reporters, who kept viewers well informed about strategy and concerns from pit road, including letting us know who was pushing the limits. As a result, the most dramatic moment, Bobby Labonte running out of fuel on the final lap and coasting from second to fifth place, wasn't a big surprise.
+ Daytona International Speedway clearly sparkles at night, and network cameras did the track justice. The best shots showed the grandstands illuminated by camera flashes as cars sped past.
+ Not to say this Pepsi 400 lacked drama, but a quick race meant postrace interviews were so drawn out, Michael Waltrip's daughter got the opportunity to announce on live network television that she lost a tooth. It couldn't help but make us long for anything to better fill time before the news, including more Wimbledon commercials.
_ SHARON GINN