Lightning McQueen and the other veteran racers of the Piston Cup Racing series suddenly find themselves struggling to win against next-generation rookies like Jackson Storm, who utilize advanced technology and modern training methods. As Storm’s breakout success attracts other rookies to the series, most of the veterans either retire or are fired to make way and room for the new generation. In the final race of the season, McQueen desperately attempts to overtake Storm but loses control and suffers a violent and nearly fatal rollover crash, leaving him badly injured. Four months later, McQueen is still recovering in Radiator Springs, isolating himself from his friends and spending his time watching footage of his late mentor, Doc Hudson.After receiving some encouragement from his girlfriend Sally, McQueen decides to return to racing and calls his sponsors from Rust-Eze, Rusty and Dusty, who reveal that they have sold the team to a new owner named Sterling. In a new state-of-the-art training center, Sterling assigns McQueen to train under racing trainer Cruz Ramirez. McQueen becomes impatient over Cruz’s methodical approach to training, so he tries to use a high-tech racing simulator – only to end up damaging it. Sterling decides to pull McQueen from racing and use him for merchandise. McQueen rejects this and offers a deal: if he can win the first race of the season, he can continue racing as long as he wants; otherwise, he will retire immediately. Sterling accepts the deal, but assigns Cruz to join him. McQueen tries to train on nearby Fireball Beach but ends up spending most of his time teaching Cruz how to drive on the sandy terrain. McQueen then attempts to join a race incognito at a famous dirt track called Thunder Hollow, but inadvertently enters a figure-8-style demolition derby with Cruz, which she wins, much to McQueen’s embarrassment. Distraught at the apparent waste of training time, McQueen rages at Cruz and in the process accidentally breaks her trophy. Upset, Cruz reveals that she had wanted to be a racer just like McQueen all her life, but never started a race due to her feeling intimidated and outclassed by the other racers. She resigns as McQueen’s trainer and heads back to the training center. Guilty and with no other options, McQueen calls his friend Mater for advice. He suggests that McQueen tracks down Doc’s mentor Smokey, in Doc’s hometown of Thomasville, so McQueen catches up to Cruz and convinces her to rejoin him. In Thomasville, McQueen meets up with Smokey, who reveals that despite the fact Doc never raced again – he found a new happiness in training McQueen. After McQueen accepts that he will never be as fast as Storm, Smokey and his friends help McQueen learn new tricks to overcome his speed disadvantage, using Cruz as his sparring partner. However during the final practice race, Cruz suddenly overtakes him and he suffers a flashback to his crash, shaking his confidence.At the race in Florida, McQueen starts last, but with coaching from Smokey in the pits, manages to gradually push up the ranks. Sterling, who still believes McQueen can’t win, orders Cruz back to the training center, despite her wanting to stay and watch the race. McQueen overhears the exchange, and remembers how Cruz never fulfilled her dream of racing.