The incident triggered a safety car on lap 12, which saw Whincup snare the lead from Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin after pitting. The Red Bull racer flew away to an eventual two-second win - as carnage continued in his wake - notching up his sixth win of 11 races at the Townsville track.
"Massive action at the start there -I was hoping to keep it clean and come through," Whincup said. "Great start to the weekend, but a long way to go."
Tander managed to maintain second and finish on the podium for the first time this season.
"The car was fantastic," Tander said. "The car was mega, the guys did a great job... We had a really solid Darwin and great way to start the round."
Will Davison also scored his first podium for the year, and first with Erebus Motorsport.
"I had no right mirror, no left mirror and about seven laps in my centre mirror flew off in the cockpit so driving blind!" Davison said.
"I'm just so thrilled for Erebus... it's a big milestone."
A best result for Nick Percat since joining V8 Supercars full-time finishing fourth, with Shane van Gisbergen, McLaughlin, Bright, James Courtney, first Ford David Reynolds and Nissan's Michael Caruso complete the top 10.
Mark Winterbottom retains his Championship lead by 147, now over Jamie Whincup, with Lowndes down to third.
Winterbottom managed 10th after qualifying 17th and was concerned about the pace of his Falcon.
"We tried a few things then but my complaint at the moment poor braking poor entry and really bad drive," he said.
"It's a worrying sign, we need to get it quicker. (Qualifying) 19th (for the second race) is not the worry, it's getting it quicker."
Stablemate Jack Perkins also had a significant accident in his JELD-WEN Falcon, heavy into the wall after battling with Todd Kelly's Nissan. The incident will be investigated post-race, as will contact between Bright, Tander and van Gisbergen on lap one. The team is attempting to fix the car for the coming race.