Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)
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NASCAR back on track for extra day of testing in Atlanta
by Paul Newberry, AP Sports Writer
February 26, 2015 05:10 PM | 129 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)
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Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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 HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) — After the glitz of Daytona, now it's time for the NASCAR grind.

The Sprint Cup drivers returned to the track Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, getting an extra day to test out the new rules package that will be in effect for the first time.

"This really feels like the start of the season," said Kyle Larson, who ranked second behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray during the first practice session on a cool, windy day at the 1.54-mile trioval.

The Daytona 500 is in a class of its own, the biggest event of the year coming right at the start of the schedule. The race Sunday will be more in line with the bulk of the grueling schedule, which will lead to a champion finally being crowned in November.

Also, since the races at Daytona and Talladega are run with a special restrictor-plate package that was largely unchanged from 2014, this will be the first event with the new rules. The horsepower has been reduced significantly, going from 840 to 725, and the rear spoiler was shortened from 8 to 6 inches. Most intriguingly, drivers now have the option of controlling the track bar from inside the car, allowing them to adjust the rear balance during the race, altering the way their machine handles.

"It's a neat tool," Larson said. "It's nice to put a little bit more in the drivers' hands."

Carl Edwards wasn't quite as thrilled with his new toy. He tried it out during practice, but found it didn't move as quickly as he hoped. Also, with his switch installed on the steering wheel, he worries about making an adjustment inadvertently or having it get stuck during a change, going to one extreme or the other.

"This is an opportunity to screw ourselves up more than it helps us," said Edwards, getting ready for his second race with the new No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. "I will probably not mess with mine too much."

McMurray posted the fastest speed during the opening practice, turning a lap of 191.549 mph. Larson was next at 190.195, followed by defending Cup champion Kevin Harvick at 189.850.

Edwards was further back, 13th at 187.297, but there's no track he enjoys more than Atlanta. It was the site of his first career victory, and he couldn't help but notice a picture in the media center of him beating Jimmie Johnson by just a few feet in that 2005 race.

"The picture is kind of hidden behind the coffee machine and the doughnuts," he quipped, "but that was a turning point in my life."

Echoing Larson's comments, Edwards said this feels like another season opener. Restrictor-plate racing is basically pushing the pedal to the floor for 500 miles and hoping you avoid the inevitable wrecks that occur when the field is bunched together for long periods of time. The drivers will have more of a say in who pulls into Victory Lane in Atlanta.

"It's a fast track with a lot of character," Edwards said. "The corners aren't perfect. There's bumps and seams, there's spots with no grip and spots with a ton of grip. It's got character. You throw the car down in the corner here and you toss that thing in sideways at 195 mph and you have to manage your tires. It's just a real fun racetrack. ... I could race here every week and be happy. I love it."

To make it safer, track officials announced plans to extend the SAFER foam barrier by 130 feet at the exit of pit road near Turn 1, in addition to installing a tire barrier along the inside wall of Turn 4.

The move follows a hard crash at Daytona that left Kyle Busch with a broken right leg and left foot. During the Xfinity Series race, he slammed into a concrete wall that was unprotected by a SAFER barrier, forcing him to miss the biggest event of the year and putting him out of action indefinitely.

Matt Crafton, a regular in the Truck series, took over the No. 18 car in the Daytona 500. David Ragan has been tapped to fill in for Busch at Atlanta and the next several weeks.

Ragan was given permission by his regular team, Front Row Motorsports, to take over Busch's seat at Joe Gibbs Racing. Joe Nemechek was hired to replace Ragan in the No. 34 machine at Atlanta, which has 48 entries. Five drivers will be sent home after qualifying, putting the pressure on low-budget teams to make the 43-car field or possibly run out of money to carry on to future events.

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Heat blamed for spray vaccine's failure against swine flu
by Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer
February 26, 2015 05:08 PM | 96 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print

ATLANTA (AP) — The makers of the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine say now they know why it has failed to protect young U.S. children against swine flu — fragile doses got too warm.

The AstraZeneca FluMist vaccine works well for most flu strains, but small studies found it didn't work very well against the swine flu bug that first emerged in 2009. Swine flu has returned each year since but wasn't a big player this flu season.

The problem first came to light last year, when swine flu was behind most illnesses. At a medical meeting Thursday, company officials said they investigated and concluded that the swine flu part of the vaccine is unusually sensitive to heat.

Flu vaccine is refrigerated, but it is allowed to be out at room temperature for up to two hours at a time during production, packaging and shipping. The doses out on hot days were least effective, and company officials say it's because they degraded and lost potency.

The company plans to use a more stable strain in the future.

FluMist is made using live but weakened virus, and is only approved for ages 2 to 49. Flu shots, made from killed virus, do not appear to be as vulnerable to heat, experts say.

In June, a federal scientific panel — the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — took the unusual step of advising doctors to give FluMist to healthy young kids instead of a shot, if available. For years, studies have indicated the nasal spray is the better choice for young children because it prompts a stronger immune response in kids who have never been sick with the flu.

On Thursday, the panel rescinded its preference for FluMist.

Data presented to the panel on Thursday confirmed early indications that flu vaccines of all kinds, including FluMist, didn't work very well this winter. They were roughly 20 percent effective. This year's vaccines didn't include the exact strain that ended up making most people sick.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee to deliver the annual assessment by intelligence agencies of the top dangers facing the country. China is expanding its outposts in the South China Sea to include stationing for ships and potential airfields as part of its "aggressive" effort to exert sovereignty, the U.S. intelligence chief said. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee to deliver the annual assessment by intelligence agencies of the top dangers facing the country. China is expanding its outposts in the South China Sea to include stationing for ships and potential airfields as part of its "aggressive" effort to exert sovereignty, the U.S. intelligence chief said. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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