• Survive Martinsville on Oct. 24.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia, Martinsville is a .526-mile paperclip-shaped track that forces drivers to use their brakes more than at any other stop on the Cup schedule. This track taxes the stock cars—last year nine drivers, or 20.9% of the field, suffered mechanical failures in this race—and produces more fender-banging than any other track in the Chase. These two factors should help Busch run well here this fall.
Before blowing an engine at Michigan on Aug. 15, Busch hadn't experienced a mechanical failure since Nov. 2, 2008—a span of 60 races. So his equipment is as reliable as anyone else's in NASCAR. He also thrives on contact. Growing up in Las Vegas racing at The Bullring, a tight .375-mile oval, Busch developed a reputation for muscling competitors out of the way. The years haven't dulled his combativeness. "Kurt is easily one of the top three aggressive drivers in the Cup series," says one rival driver. "That serves him well most of the time, but he can also lose his cool and do some really dumb things on the track."
If Busch can maintain his composure behind the wheel, he should finish in the top 10 at Martinsville. Ever since he arrived as a full-time driver in the Cup series in 2001, he has been something of a short-track specialist: 11 of his 22 career wins have been at tracks that are 1.1 miles or shorter.
• Avoid the late-race Big One at Talladega on Halloween.
It's as quick and violent as a thunderclap, and it happens nearly every time the circuit stops at Talladega or Daytona: the Big One. Because NASCAR places restrictor plates on the carburetors to reduce speeds on the two superspeedways, the cars race in tight packs, separated by inches at 190 mph. One poorly timed yank of the wheel can trigger a 20-car pileup. The 'Dega Big One ruined Carl Edwards's title hopes in 2008—he finished second to Johnson in the final standings after wrecking with 14 laps to go at Talladega and finishing 29th in that race—and it probably will doom several drivers this year.
How best to avoid this late-race wreck when drivers start to gamble? Be in front of it, which is where Busch plans to be. He has led laps in the last four events at the 2.66-mile track.
• Lean on experience at Homestead.
Who was the last driver to prevail against Johnson when the points were close heading into the season's final race? Busch. In 2004 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in what most press-box observers still consider the most thrilling race of the Chase era, Busch had a wheel come off while roaring onto pit road, fell back in the field, then brazenly darted through traffic to finish fifth, which was good enough to edge Johnson for the championship. At different times in that race, three drivers held the championship lead.
"I know what it takes to beat [Johnson's] team, and that's going to help us when we get to Homestead," Busch says. "I'm going to use that experience, be patient and put us in the right position at the right time to make our move. We have a definite plan for the entire playoff. I don't know if it's going to work, but I do know this: This is going to be one crazy Chase."