The Japanese Kobayashi is not scheduled to show at this year's July 4 hot dog eating contest in New York. He's won six times - an unprecedented feat.
Major League Eating president Richard Shea claims Kobayashi's contract negotiations broke down this year. But competitors still worry that Kobayashi could make a last-minute entrance.
"It shouldn't make a difference for my game plan," said Chestnut, from San Jose, Calif. "But it's just an annoying little thing to think about. I just have to make sure I'm ready."
Kobayashi ate his way to victory from 2001 to 2006. But starting in 2007, he choked.
Chestnut has won the title for the last three years. In last year's contest, Chestnut scarfed 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes - a world record.
Two years ago, Chestnut beat Kobayashi in a five-dog eat off, after they tied at 59 franks each.
Chestnut says the rivalry still runs deep between him and Kobayashi. The two don't talk - and not just because their mouths are full.
"Last time he didn't even shake my hand," Chestnut said.
Shea says even with Kobayashi out of the game, Chestnut will still have Bob Shoudt, the world's No. 2 eater, and Patrick Bertoletti, No. 4 in the world, to contend with.
"There's still some strong competition," he said. "I think you're going to see a good show."
The 95th annual hot dog eating contest will take place in Coney Island, Brooklyn, at 12:40 p.m. Sunday. TV viewers can catch the spectacle on ESPN from noon to 1 p.m.