No fans, no problem: Joey Chestnut sets record, cruises to 13th victory in Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

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Joey Chestnut didn’t need a crowd or his closest competitor.

Instead, in one of the most unusual editions of one of the most distinctly American traditions, the San Jose native downed his 1,000th career hot dog, broke his own record by eating 75 dogs and buns in 10 minutes and cruised to a 13th victory in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Saturday.

“The hot dogs were really fast,” Chestnut said as he burped his way through a socially distanced post-contest interview on ESPN.

This being the coronavirus era, there were no throngs of hot dog attire-clad fans packing the Coney Island Boardwalk for the contest this Fourth of July.

Just about everyone had to watch the event on TV, broadcast from a brick-walled room somewhere near the boardwalk, with a limited group of judges and media on hand. Plastic barriers separated each of the competitors, who wore face masks as they stepped up to the hot dog table.

The oddly quiet atmosphere “kind of creeped me out,” Chestnut told this news organization. “It was different — everything is different.”

Just five eaters took part in the contest after three others were unable to compete because of self-quarantine restrictions New York has implemented for visitors as the virus explodes around the country. Matt Stonie, another San Jose competitive eater and the only man who has defeated Chestnut at the hot dog eating competition since 2006, was among those who missed out.

As a result, the event itself was even less of a competition: Chestnut beat second-place finisher Darron Breeden by 33 dogs.

In the women’s competition, the similarly dominant Miki Sudo consumed 48.5 hot dogs and buns as she too blew away the field to notch her seventh straight victory.

The closer contest was between Chestnut and his own record, set in 2018, of 74 dogs: “A man going up against his own legacy,” as ESPN commentator Mike Golic Jr. put it.

The unique circumstances appeared to work to Chestnut’s advantage: He was eating in air-conditioned comfort rather than sweating through the contest in the summer sun, and with fewer competitors to cook for, he said, the hot dogs were fresher and tasted better as he wolfed them down.

Chestnut started at a blistering pace, averaging better than 10 dogs per minute through the first half of the contest.

But by the time he downed dog number 62 with a little more than two minutes left, marking the 1,000th in his competitive eating career, Chestnut’s pace had slowed significantly with no crowd there to pump him up.

“I hit a terrible lull,” Chestnut said. “I missed the crowd at that point.”

He labored through, though, cramming the 75th hot dog and its water-soaked bun into his mouth in the final seconds.

“Those last two minutes, I was able to nail it,” Chestnut said.

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