The modeling of a cracked rotor system with an open or breathing transverse crack is addressed here. The cracked rotor with an open crack model behaves as an asymmetric shaft. Hence, the time-varying area moments of inertia of the cracked section are employed in formulating the periodic finite element stiffness matrix for both crack models which yields a linear time-periodic system. The harmonic balance method (HB) is used in solving the finite element (FE) equations of motions for studying the dynamic behavior of the cracked rotor system. The unique behavior of the whirl orbits during the passage through the subcritical rotational speeds and the sensitivity of these orbits to the unbalance force direction can be used for early crack detection of the cracked rotor for both crack models. These whirl orbits were verified experimentally for the open crack model in the neighborhood of 1/2 of the first critical rotational speed where a good match with the theoretical whirl orbits was observed.