This story takes place right before the first movie where Darrell Cartrip is interviewing Lightning McQueen on the show, "Rev Limits." He asks him how he became a Piston Cup racer and Lightning starts his story.
The story starts one year ago at Thunderhill Raceway. Lightning was known as "Bulldozer McQueen" and he was the fastest thing seen at the track, which he knew very well. He would go through any gap he could find, even the small ones (Lightning went through a small gap, which didn't have much room. That caused the racers he passed to crash). Everyone else was racing for second place. Lightning won the race.
Darrell interupts the story to express how impressed he was by how Lightning won the race. However, that was not the whole story...
Lightning still had to win the regional championship to become a regional champion. It would make it easier to find a sponsor for the Piston Cup races. Lightning did a practice lap at the race track, but crashed, so he had to be in the back of the line.
The next day at the race, Lightning does his pre-race routine. However, he does it for too long and the other racers start without him, so he hurried through the track. Later, he catches up to Racer 66 and Racer 99. Lightning sees a gap between them and tries to go through it, but they closed the gap at the last second. Lightning tries again, Racer 66 and 99 squeeze him, causing him to crash. Racer 66 wins the race. Lightning stays where he crashed until the lights turned off.
Lightning drives along the line of truck trailers when a moving van peaked out, startling Lightning. The moving van expresses how impressed he is with Lightning's speed and introduces himself as Mack. He says that he and one of his friends could help Lightning get into the next Piston Cup Test session and that he desires being a race car transporter. Mack decides to take Lightning to his friend to prove that he can transport a race car and Lightning agrees
Along the way, Mack stops at Top Down Truck Stop to get a car wash. He also uses the back roads, claiming he could not afford toll roads. However, since the roads were bumpy, moving supplies went flying around inside and hitting Lightning.
Mack shows up and interupts the story, telling Darrell that he should tell a part of it. Lightning was the fastest thing Mack had seen. Like in Lightning's story, Lightning crashes, they meet each other, and Mack takes Lightning to meet Gray.
After that, Lightning decides to join the Dinoco team, but Dinoco already had a race car, The King. He then asks Hostile Takeover Banks, Chick Hicks' sponsor, but they decline. He asked the Todd Marcus, Floyd Mulvihill, and several other racers, but none of them accept him. However, Gray had introduced some fellas who he thought could help. They were Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze. Lightning did not want to join them, because they were rusty cars.
Later, Mack and Lightning were watching a race. Mack tells Lightning about one of the racers, whom he claims is the best Piston Cup racer ever. However, he will be retiring at the end of the season. Meanwhile, in the race, the old Rust-eze racer blows a tire and crashes. This makes him decide to stop racing instead of waiting for the season to end. Mack sees this as an opportunity for Lightning to join the Rust-eze team and convinces Lightning to ask for sponsorship. Rusty and Dusty agree to sponsor him. At first, he felt upset about it, until he arrives at his first big race and realizes how big the track is, allowing him to go faster. He does a practice lap and the announcer says he broke the track record. The King was impressed, but Chick feels jealous.
Rusty and Dusty give Lightning a contract for the first 4 races in the season, which he agrees to, under the condition that Mack will become his transporter
After the next break, the King was gonna tell more of the story, but before he could do so, the camera car accidentally unplugs the camera. Darrel yells at the camera car to hurry up and get them back on the air, but the King tells him to calm down. Once the camera is plugged back in, the King starts the story.
First, he recapped on what happened during Mack's story, then continued to the next time he saw Lightning at his first race at Beachside Speedway. It was the Beachside 500. Lightning and Mack meet Rusty and Dusty again, who introduce the pit crew. However, Lightning was too busy thinking about the track to pay any attention.
During the race, Lightning's crew chief decides to start things easy, but Lightning wants to hurry and get racing, so he leaves the pits before his bolts on his tires could be tightened. On the track, Chick crashes into Lightning, causing one of his tires fell out, so he returns to the pits. Mack says that the pit crew can help him, but Lightning calls himself a one-man show, something his crew chief doubted. The race starts and Lightning tries to squeeze through a gap, but the race cars came together, like how Racer 66 and Racer 99 did earlier in the story. Lightning attempts to go around, but a crash happened. Lightning makes it through the crash and goes to take a pit stop, but his pit crew refused to give him one until Lightning admits that he needs them. Once they were done, Lightning ends up in last place. However, he catches up until he gets behind the King and Chick on the final lap. He tries to pass them, to no avail, and comes in third with with the King in first and Chick second. The King drives over to Lightning and compliments his racing, saying it was fast and like a zig-zag, resulting in the name, "Lightning McQueen."
Lightning returns to finish the rest of the story, which continues at Bowling Lake, his fifth race. He has a new paint job with some lightning bolts and he knows that the race will be really special since he had the pole position. However, this race is on a historic road course, not an oval, and his new crew chief is very bossy. Lightning catches up with Chick and was about to pass him on the outside, but that causes him to fall behind instead. Chick then bumps into Lightning, but his crew chief describes the behavior as rubbing and that rubbing is a part of racing. He decided to pass Chick on the next corner.
As Lightning passes a few cars, they pass him back at a turn, because he went to the the outside. At the next pit stop, his crew chief yells at him for taking turns on the outside and says he should be taking the apex of the corner, which means the highest point, but Lightning did not know what an apex was.
Back in the race, Lightning decides to stay behind the other racers instead of going outside, and he does not fall behind. He catches up to the King and passes him on the inside, but still gets passed back. The King tells Lightning that how fast he leaves a corner is more important than how fast he enters it and drives away, but blows a tire and slows down. Lightning passes the King and catches up to Chick Hicks. As he tries to pass him, Chick slams into him, but this does not stop Lightning and Chick falls off the track.
Since the other racers are having tire problems, Lightning's crew chief tells him to play it safe and take a pit stop on the next lap, but Lightning refuses and takes the lead. His crew chief is getting angry and begins yelling, but this does not get McQueen to head into the pits, so the crew chief gives up. Soon, only five laps are remaining and the King and Chick are behind Lightning. Lightning's tires were getting lose, but he still refused to pit. On the final lap, Chick was about to pass the King, but got blocked. Lightning's tire blow right when he crosses the finish line and he wins.
Finishing the story, Mack thinks that the King has helped Lightning win that race. After that race, Lightning was sure to become the first rookie to win a Piston Cup. The Dinoco 400 was now about to start.