For rotors supported by active magnetic bearings (AMBs), clearance bearings are commonly used to provide backup support under loss of AMB functionality. Test data from real machines shows that vibration during touchdown on backup bearings may involve steady forward whirling of the rotor with a subsynchronous frequency. This excitation is believed to be due to friction forces transmitted between the rotor and a bearing end-face under axial load. This paper proposes a new analytical approach to model and predict such friction-driven forward whirl behaviors. A set of constraint equations are derived that relate a circular whirl motion of arbitrary orbital speed to the frequency response functions for the rotor-housing structure. This model is coupled with an evaluation of Coulomb friction associated with slip between the rotor and the supporting end-face of a thrust bearing. The resulting equations can be used to compute a set of possible whirl motions via a root-finding procedure. A case study is undertaken for a 140 kW energy storage flywheel. Model-based predictions are compared with measured data from spin-down tests and show a good level of agreement. The study confirms the role of friction-related forces in driving forward-whirl response behaviors. It also highlights the key role of housing and machine support characteristics in response behavior. This influence is shown to be complex and not open to simple physical interpretation. Therefore, the proposed analytical method is seen as a useful tool to investigate this influence while avoiding the need for time consuming numerical simulations.