Lightning McQueen (built 18th November 1995) is the main protagonist in Pixar's 2006 film Cars and deuteragonist in its sequel, he also appears as the deuteragonist in Cars Toons: Mater's Tall TalesIn the beginning of the film, Lightning McQueen is a skilled but arrogant, self-centered rookie racer. Hoping to be the first rookie to win the Piston Cup trophy and gain a lucrative endorsement deal from Dinoco Oil, he finishes in a three-way tie with perennial runner-up Chick Hicks and veteran Strip "The King" Weathers.
On route to California for a tie-breaker race, he becomes detoured off U.S. Route 66 in New Mexico because of The Delinquent Road Hazards and finds himself in Radiator Springs, a nearly abandoned town which saw its livelihood largely disappear due to the construction of Interstate 40 decades ago. McQueen accidentally destroys the town's main road because of his fear of the sheriff (he mistook the old cruiser's backfiring for gunshots). The town's judge sentences McQueen to repair the road before he may return to Los Angeles, where the 3-way tie-breaker race is being held.
Over the course of his stay in the town, he comes to form friendships with the residents of the town. He falls in love with a former city-dwelling attorney named Sally, and gains a deep respect and reverence for the town's judge and doctor, an ex-race car named Doc Hudson. These experiences lead McQueen to understand the importance of friendship and love, and that fame is not the most important thing in life.
It is established that while en route to California, and when he went with Sally to see the Wheel Well Hotel, that not only did McQueen not have close to any friends at the beginning of the movie, but that he also secretly found his life unhappy to a certain extent. When Sally told McQueen the reason for leaving her lifestyle as an attorney, being that she wasn't happy, McQueen began to agree, but immediately puts on a surprised emotion to hide it.
As the tie-breaker race begins, McQueen's thoughts keep drifting back to Radiator Springs and he is distracted from performing well. However, he is surprised to discover that his new friends have come along to serve as his pit crew along with Mack, as well as Doc – once again outfitted in his old racing colors – serving as McQueen's new crew chief. Heartened by their presence and recalling the tricks they taught him, McQueen is able to counteract Chick Hicks' dirty driving tactics and take the lead of the race. McQueen manages to make it to the finish line before Chick and The King, but after seeing The King being deliberately spun out of control by Chick, and remembering the crash that had ended Doc's career, McQueen stops before the finish line, which allows Chick to win and take the Piston Cup.
McQueen reverses to help push The King the rest of the way across the finish line, allowing him to complete his last race and retire with dignity, much to the crowd's pleasure. After the King reminds him how he just gave up the Piston Cup, Lightning recalls Doc's statement earlier in the film that; "It's just an empty cup." McQueen gains a large measure of respect from the public for his act of sportsmanship, leaving Chick to be booed and jeered by the crowd for his reckless cheating. McQueen is offered the Dinoco sponsorship but turns it down, saying that he would rather stay with the Rust-Eze team that brought him this far. McQueen returns to Radiator Springs and decides to move his team's headquarters there, helping to revitalize the town and its businesses. The movie ends with Lightning and Sally racing to Flo's and Mater flying on a Dinoco helicopter (as Lightning had promised him earlier in the movie).