Lightning McQueen is a young, quick racecar. Throughout his rookie season, he was known as a "One man show", constantly firing crew chiefs and forcing other crew members to quit. Lightning had the lead in the Piston Cup, ahead of Strip Weathers(a.k.a. The King) and Chick Hicks by about half a lap, and beating the other racers as well. When McQueen refused to have his tires changed, his tires began to wear out and pop on the final stretch. This allowed The King and Hicks to catch up, and the race ended with a three-way tie. On his way to California for the tie-breaker and a shot with Dinoco, McQueen became separated from his driver. McQueen found himself in a small town, Radiator Springs, on the historic root 66. By the time McQueen got out or Radiator Springs, he had made new friends, and learned there's more than winning. In the final three-way tie breaking race, Hicks bumped into the King, and sent the King out of control. It was a fatal crash, and McQueen was too far ahead for Hicks to catch up. It appeared that McQueen had earned the Piston Cup. However, McQueen stopped just before the finish line, went back to the King, and helped him cross the finish line. Although McQueen did not cross the finish line first, many say that he was the true winner. McQueen will return once again for another season of racing.
Lightning McQueen, typically referred to by his surname McQueen, and occasionally called "Stickers" by Sally, is the main protagonist and is voiced by actor Owen Wilson in the films and by Keith Ferguson on other occasions. He is named after Glenn McQueen, a Pixar Animator who died of melanoma in October 2002, although the car shares certain traits with actor and race car driver Steve McQueen. His overall profile was inspired by stock cars and a "more curvaceous Le Mans endurance racer", e.g., Lola and Ford GT40. His number, 95, is a reference to the year Pixar released its first feature-length movie, Toy Story.
In the beginning of the film, Lightning McQueen is a talented yet overconfident race car, especially towards his pit crew. He hopes to be the first rookie to win the Piston Cup race and gain a lucrative endorsement deal from Dinoco Oil in the final race of the season, but finishes in a three-way tie with perennial runner-up Chick Hicks and veteran Strip "The King" Weathers after losing his huge lead on the final lap because of two blown rear tires. McQueen also wanted the Dinoco deal because of his dislike to his somewhat awkward Rust-Eze sponsorship and the rusty cars within it.
He gets lost in Radiator Springs on his way to California and meets new friends who seek to restore their town to its former glory. It is there he befreinds Mater and falls in love with the town attorney and hotelier, Sally Carrera. He changes his look at the end of the movie to help out the townsfolk, and his appreciation for his benefactors is restored. He learns valuable lessons such as true friendship; how greed affects others; keeping promises; teamwork; and that life is about the journey, not the destination. These values lead him to rejuvenate Radiator Springs back to its heyday and relocate to the town forever to make it his racing headquarters.
After Chick Hicks rams The King in the final tie-breaker Piston Cup race, McQueen stops on the finish line and 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. McQueen is offered the Dinoco sponsorship, but declines it to remain with the team who gave him his big break. McQueen will return in Cars 2 as the main protagonist. In the film he is now racing in the first ever World Grand Prix. For unknown reasons he has returned to his original paint-job. He also has his tailfin replaced with a spoiler.