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Naysayers have it wrong, the Championship 4 final delivered

Maybe the age of opinion echos has just manifested itself again or maybe those with the perpetual sour taste about the state of NASCAR in their mouths simply have it again. But after a thrilling Ford EcoBoost 400 that saw statistically the four best drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series compete for the Championship 4 and race near each other all 400 miles, this same crowd couldn’t see the forest for the trees. This year’s championship race delivered. 

The sport’s “Big Three”, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr., combined to win 20 races and did almost all of that damage in the first two-thirds of the season. The championship would undoubtedly go thru them. But as Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, and eventually Aric Almirola started tallying wins, the spotlight on the other three dimmed. However, none of this winning group really emerged as “the guy” to slay the three-headed dragon. So this seemed to set up the Homestead-Miami race as one that obviously Harvick, Truex Jr., or Busch would win. 

There is a reason races aren’t run in simulators. Busch or Harvick should have put on a clinic Sunday, as Truex Jr. and the soon-closing No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota had seen their recent performance wane a bit. But Logano, who had been consistent but not front-running all season, secured his Homestead ticket by running Truex Jr. hard to the finish and taking the Martinsville win from him. And suddenly, the No. 22 team looked like a contender. But certainly Harvick, who had dominated the Texas race (with an illegal spoiler), and Busch, who had won the previous week at Phoenix, would be firing on all cylinders in Homestead. As it turns out, all four championship drivers were in some respect. 

As you may remember, Busch, Truex Jr., and Logano started in the top 5 and Harvick had to climb up from 12th at Homestead. Harvick took no time driving up into the top 10 and took the lead after the first pit stops to win Stage 1. And then these four stayed right on each other all race long, with pit stops becoming a game of cat and mouse. The stops continuously cost Busch precious time and sunk an already ill-handling car deeper in the pack. But the 2015 champ kept clawing back. 

Harvick had the race won after the last green flag stop. Truex Jr. had the speed on that long run at the end, but Harvick and Logano came to pit road one lap before him and Harvick was poised to win the championship. But Busch, with no chance to win conventionally, stayed out on old tires, hoping and praying for a caution to freeze him in the lead. 

When Keselowski (Logano’s teammate) got into Daniel Suarez (Busch’s teammate) and brought out a yellow, Busch got the miracle he needed and his crew delivered him the lead from the first pit stall. Here’s your game seven moment: the Championship 4 would comprise the first two rows for the 15-lap shootout. Wouldn’t betting money land on Busch? He’s widely regarded as the best restarter in the sport and the driver with likey the most raw talent. With a championship on the line, the pendulum had swung in favor of Busch. 

Busch got the break, but couldn’t capitalize. With equal tires and nearly equal track position, Truex Jr. and Logano dusted him and pulled away. The 2018 title would come down to last year’s MENCS Cup winner, whom Logano roughed up for a Martinsville win and who said Logano would not win the war. The war would be decided by them. 

The two drivers had made contact incidentally, racing close in the race, but this battle came down to man vs. machine vs. the weather/time-worn track. Logano made a champion’s move on Truex Jr. on the fourth lap of this final run. Logano sailed the No. 22 high into a turn to a degree that made announcers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton think he missed the corner. And Logano wrested the lead away and never looked back. If the race had 30 or 40 laps remaining, Truex Jr. would have won. Or maybe Harvick. Busch finished well back in 4th. But it was Logano, who rivals Busch in the boos he gets from fans, who now joins the Big Three as a single-Cup championship winner. 

For those who thought they saw bad racing on Sunday, the broadcast didn’t do any favors. NBC did a poor job covering any battles on the track that didn’t involve the lead or the Championship 4 drivers and they need to address this. Also, despite there being multiple grooves, the aero-factor definitely spread the field out. But tire wear and the difference in setups allowed drivers to make up these differences over a long run. Neither the Camping World Truck Series race Friday (race and championship won by Brett Moffitt) or the Xfinity Series race Saturday (race and championship won by Tyler Reddick) had any cautions that weren’t stage breaks. That usually prompts fans to give bad marks. 

The drama Sunday may be seen as manufactured by some, but it was real. The four title contenders raced each other hard all 267 laps. And while there were some lulls in this race...like most any race...the drama and tension were palpable in those closing laps. Each move felt like it would decide the title. Not two drivers, but four decided the Monster Energy Cup and their battle was one for the ages. Or at least I hope. Could we as fans let this one live in the canon of great battles or will the sour tastes and negative fog taint this one also? Hopefully the former. 

Watch the race rewind and fast forward to 10 minutes to see that final restart. 

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News

  • When he made the announcement he was declaring a national emergency, President Donald Trump said he expected to be sued over the move. So far, a handful of activists and even state attorneys general have said they are looking at taking the president to court or have filed a lawsuit already.  Take a look at the lawsuits that are currently pending or will soon be filed. Public Citizen Public Citizen is an advocacy group that filed a suit Friday after the president’s Rose Garden announcement. The group is filing on behalf of three Texas landowners and an environmental group to block the emergency decree. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reported. >>Read: Can Congress repeal the national emergency declaration? Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington hasn’t filed suit directly on Trump but instead is suing the Justice Department, claiming documents were not provided, including legal opinions and communications, related to Trump’s decision, USA Today reported. The group is using a Freedom of Information Act request submitted concerning the proposed border barrier. Center for Biological Diversity Center for Biological Diversity is an environmental group. It claims the president did not identify a legal authority to declare the emergency. The group said the wall will block wildlife from its natural habitat “and could result in the extirpation of jaguars, ocelots and other endangered species within the United States,” according to the Post. >>Read: Trump signs funding bill to avoid government shutdown, declares emergency to build border wall American Civil Liberties Union The ACLU has not yet filed but is preparing a suit that says that Trump can’t redirect the money paid by taxpayers unless it is for construction that directly supports the military, the Post reported. ACLU officials said the suit will be filed early this week, saying, “There is no emergency. Members of Congress from both parties, security experts, and Americans who live at the border have all said so. What the president is doing is yet another illegal and dangerous power grab in the service of his anti-immigrant agenda.” The group called the declaration an “abuse of power” and says it “violates the constitutional checks and balances that protect us.” >>Read the latest from our Washington Insider Jamie Dupree The ACLU is using the president’s own words against him from when he said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” >> Read more trending news  California attorney general Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, will be joined by New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii and Connecticut in trying to stop the emergency declaration from proceeding. >>Read: National emergency likely to be blocked by courts, DOJ tells White House: reports “We’re confident there are at least 8 billion ways that we can prove harm. And once we are all clear, all the different states are clear, what pots of money that taxpayers sent to D.C. he’s going to raid, which Congress dedicated to different types of services -- whether it’s emergency response services or whether it’s fires or mudslides in California or maybe tornadoes and floods in other parts of the country or whether it’s our military men and women and their families who live on military installations that might -- that might have money taken away from them, or whether it’s money taken away from drug interdiction efforts in places like California, a number of states, and certainly Americans, will be harmed. And we’re all going to be prepared,” Becerra said on ABC News’ “This Week.”  >>Read: Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? A spokesperson for the attorney general of Colorado, Phil Weiser, said his state will also be joining the suit, KDVR reported. The spokesperson said Weiser decided that the state will be hurt if money is transferred from military installations to the wall, according to KDVR.
  • From a court watcher’s perspective it’s apparent to most that the upcoming trial of Ryan Duke, charged with the 2005 murder of South Georgia high school teacher Tara Grinstead is sure to be nothing short of a spectacle of epic proportions. We got a preview of things to come during - of all things - a bond hearing where Duke asked, for the first time in two years, to be released on bond. It wasn’t the denial of bond, nor the fact that Duke asked for bond that is particularly noteworthy. It’s what the bond hearing devolved into that raised eyebrows. Despite losing the motion, the defense unexpectedly was able to depose the lead GBI investigator on a wide range of topics in a dress rehearsal for what promises to be a most controversial trial.  To start, let’s have a look at what a bond hearing is supposed to be.  It’s uncommon for bond to be set in murder cases but it’s not unheard of. Courts are supposed to consider the following factors in making bond decisions and the burden of proof is on the defendant to show that he:  Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;  Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;  Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and  Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.  Probable cause is not an issue and of course neither is guilt or innocence. A bond hearing is not a trial.  The Duke bond hearing started out as most bond hearings do. The defense called Duke’s brother to testify regarding each of the factors set out above. But then it started a downward spiral into the surreal when the prosecutor called the lead GBI case agent as a witness - presumably as a rebuttal to the defense. A state’s witness, such as an investigator, can occasionally testify - to a point - about “what happened” because that’s relevant - to a point - for the court to determine whether the person poses a danger to the community. But in this case, the testimony was literally all over the place and went into minute detail about many things that have never been heard before. The “bond hearing” was effectively transformed into a deposition - a legal luxury not normally available to a criminal defendant in Georgia.  So just what did we learn from this “bond” hearing? We learned that DNA from the bodily fluid of a police officer was mixed with the victim’s blood on some bedding and that “touch DNA” from Grinstead and Duke (along with DNA from at least two other people) was on a latex glove found outside her residence. “Touch DNA” has its own share of problems in terms of reliability and we can safely expect the defense to explore those problems at trial. Some of that other unidentified DNA from the glove could have come from Bo Dukes - the person accused of helping cover up the murder - and who the defense claims is the actual killer.  We learned there were many investigative steps that could have been taken to verify statements made by both Duke and Dukes. The defense will argue that these follow up steps point to a biased investigation. This could have a huge impact in a trial where the defense will claim that the defendants confession was a false confession.  We learned the GBI, in a breach of protocol and constitutional law, interviewed / talked with Duke twice after he had a lawyer. These interviews were undocumented in the GBI case file. They were not recorded. The DA apparently was unaware at the time that this tactic was being employed by the GBI until the defense raised it with them. The agent didn’t even sign in at the jail. We can only speculate as to why not.  On top of all this, an abundance of otherwise inadmissible evidence consisting of hearsay and innuendo managed to come out publicly at a bond hearing. Most of this wouldn’t have seen the light of day at a trial. As the prosecution correctly pointed out “hearsay” may be admissible at a bond hearing, but it still has to be reliable evidence - not a regurgitation of all the salacious rumors from 2005. And it must be relevant to the issue of bond. It may turn out that the DA made a great tactical mistake by calling their lead case agent to testify and turn this bond hearing into an evidentiary free-for-all with no apparent boundaries. At a minimum it was surely heartbreaking for friends and family of the victim to have to re-live all the pain of the last 13 years by having old wounds reopened in such painful detail.  I’ve previously written about why the venue for this trial really needs to be changed. Now more than ever the jury pool is really tainted - as if it weren’t already. Philip Holloway, WSB legal analyst, is a criminal lawyer who heads his own firm in Cobb County, Georgia. A former prosecutor and adjunct professor of criminal justice, he is former president of the Cobb County Bar Association's criminal law section. Follow him on Twitter: @PhilHollowayEsq The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 
  • Police in Kansas City, Kansas, arrested a man Sunday suspected of carjacking a vehicle, stealing the driver’s phone and taking off with two children in the car, the The Kansas City Star reported. >> Read more trending news  Police said a woman was making a delivery in the area when the suspect, armed with a rifle, took the vehicle, WDAF reported.  The woman ran to a store to call police, the Star reported. “It was as bad as you would think if someone had your kids,” the store manager, Robert Edwards, told the newspaper. “She was as stressed as you would imagine. I’m glad she got the kids back.” The two children, 4 and 7, had been taken out of the car and were found by a neighbor, who called police the Star reported. The children were not injured and were returned to their mother, the newspaper reported. According to Kansas City police, the suspect returned to the scene, leaving the original vehicle and then stole a second car at gunpoint, WDAF reported. Police were able to catch the suspect, who was driving a blue SUV, and returned it to its owner, the Star reported.
  • At the same time President Donald Trump was making a Rose Garden announcement Friday declaring a national emergency to fund a wall along the country’s southern border, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they would fight Trump’s declaration “using every remedy available.” >> Read more trending news Pelosi and Schumer did not lay out specific remedies they might employ to stop the president from diverting funds from other projects to use to construct a border wall, but several Democrats members of Congress have promised a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at repealing the declaration and stopping Trump’s plans. Would Congress be successful in passing a resolution that would hamper the president’s bid to fund border security by declaring a national emergency? It’s possible, but not likely. >>Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? Here’s a look at what could happen. A resolution of disapprovalCongress could approve a resolution that contests the status of the national emergency Trump has declared. They can do so under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The resolution, if passed, would stop the plan to divert money from other government programs to build the border wall. The resolution could pass with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate – 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate. There is a Democrat majority in the House where a resolution could easily pass. There are 48 Democrat members of the Senate. Democrats would need four Republicans to vote with them to pass a joint resolution. Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, have said they will introduce a bill in the House to block the declaration. By Friday afternoon, Castro told The Washington Post he had gathered more than 60 co-sponsors for the resolution. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, told ABC's “This Week” that she believes the Senate has enough votes for such a resolution. 'I think we do,' she said. 'Now, whether we have enough for an override and veto, that's a different story. But frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from the military and the DOD to go build this wall.' If a resolution should pass both chambers of Congress, it would go to the president’s desk for a signature. The president would almost certainly veto the resolution, marking the first time in his term he has used the veto power. If he does veto the resolution, it would go back to Congress where it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate to override the veto. In the House, 290 votes would be needed. In the Senate, the number would be 67. A lawsuit – or several of them The president has broad powers under the National Emergencies Act, so until the provisions of Trump’s declaration are made public, it’s unclear what someone could sue him over concerning the declaration. But sued he will be -- some suits are already in the works  -- and here is where those suits could come from: Congress: It’s likely that House Democrats would sue on grounds that the president overreached his powers by bypassing the power Congress has to control funding for government programs and projects. However, Democrats in Congress would have to first establish that they have the right to sue the White House, and that can be difficult since the president was given the authority to declare a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act in 1976. The House could challenge Trump's definition of an emergency, but the definition in the National Emergency Act is vague, leaving what is a national emergency pretty much up to the president. Activist groups: The American Civil Liberties Union said on Friday it plans to sue the president over what they call his “unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities.” Landowners: Those who own land along the area where the president has proposed a border wall could file suit over the seizure of their property if that happens. However, the government is generally allowed to buy up private property for public use – such as when privately-held land is taken to make room for a freeway. The practice is called eminent domain. It is often an uphill fight for landowners. States: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has promised that he will file a suit against the White House claiming that his state will be harmed if Trump diverts funds from other projects to build a wall. He said that four other states, New Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii and Minnesota will join his state in the pending lawsuit.Nevada’s attorney general has also threatened a suit.
  • A man has been targeting dessert shops in a Texas town, committing four robberies -- two in the same business, KHOU reported. >> Read more trending news  The Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt shop in Cypress was robbed Jan. 15, the television station reported. Surveillance cameras caught a bald man with a goatee, who walked up to the cash register, yanked it open and took the money, KHOU reported. 'I saw him and I saw what he was doing,' store manager Debra Santos told the television station. 'You just don't know people now a days. I didn't know if he had a gun or a weapon.' On Feb. 14, the bald bandit struck again, robbing a different Orange Leaf in Cypress, KHOU reported. Later that day, the man robbed Shipley’s Donuts in Cypress. The manager chased the thief, but the man sped away in a white car, the television station reported. On Feb. 16, the thief returned to the Orange Leaf he had robbed a month earlier, taking the store’s second cash register, according to KHOU.  'He said, ‘I'm sorry I have to do this,’ and he ripped the cables and took off again,' Santos told the television station. Santos said she hopes the thief’s robbery pattern will trip him up. 'I hope they catch him soon,' Santos told KHOU. 'He seems to be repetitive, so hopefully he'll have a break in his pattern and they'll catch him.
  • A baby made its entry to the world on a flight to Florida. USA Today reported that, according to JetBlue Airways spokeswoman Jen Dang, the “youngest customer to date” was born on a two hour, 50 minute flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Friday. >> Read more trending news  'We’d like to thank the crew and medical professionals on board for their quick action under pressure, and wish the new mother and son all the best,” Deng told WTVJ. “Flight 1954 was operated on aircraft N523JB, coincidentally named, ‘Born to Be Blue.’” According to a tweet from JetBlue, the baby boy was given shower gifts and can expect more to come.