Lightning McQueen, typically referred to by his surname McQueen, is an anthropomorphic racecar and the main protagonist in the 2006 animated Pixar film Cars. He also makes an appearence in Mater and the Ghostlight, a Pixar Short Film, and Cars Toons.
In the beginning of the film, Lightning McQueen is a skilled but arrogant racing rookie. Hoping to be the first rookie to win the Piston Cup race 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.
En 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 taken away by 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), and the townsfolk require him to repair it.
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 very unhappy. 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.
When he eventually gets to the Piston Cup tie-breaker - with his friends from Radiator Springs as his pit crew - McQueen manages to make it to the finish line before Chick Hicks and The King. But after seeing The King being deliberatly spun out of control by Chick, crashing into the infield, 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 decides to reverse back to help The King cross the finish line in order to retire with dignity. After the King reminds him how he just gave up the Piston Cup, Lightning reminds him of something Doc said, "It's just an empty cup." McQueen gains a large measure of respect from the public for this act of sportsmanship, and Dinoco offers him the endorsement after Chick is jeered by the crowd and denied the opportunity to celebrate for his reckless cheating. McQueen decides to stay with his original sponsor, Rust-eze, and moves his racing operations to Radiator Springs. Thanks to Lightning's endorsement, Radiator Springs sees a huge boost in tourism, and the town is saved, much to his friends' delight.